Kevin Anderson of South Africa reacts after winning the first set against Kei Nishikori of Japan during their ATP World Tour Finals tennis match at the O2 arena in London, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
By SAM JOHNSTON
Roger Federer produced an improved performance to get his campaign for a seventh ATP Finals title back on track with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Dominic Thiem on Tuesday.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion was still some way from his fluent best, but dropped just six points on serve and took advantage of a wayward display from Thiem to break twice in both sets.
Having lost his opening round-robin match to Kei Nishikori, Federer will likely need to defeat Kevin Anderson on Thursday to improve his 14-1 record of reaching the semifinals at the season-ending tournament.
Anderson thrashed Nishikori 6-0, 6-1 to move to 2-0 earlier, with the lopsided scoreline all but assuring the South African debutant’s place in the last four.
Thiem is facing an opening-round exit at the O2 Arena for a third straight season and will need to defeat Nishikori to have any chance of progressing.
As had been the case in both players’ opening-match losses on Sunday, unforced errors flowed early on. While Federer was able to compensate with his serve, Thiem was left exposed.
The Austrian’s forehand gifted Federer a break for a 2-1 lead and then his volley came up short to help the Swiss star extend that advantage to 5-2.
Federer, who is chasing a 100th ATP Tour title, started to play more relaxed and seemed content with simply keeping the ball in play and waiting for mistakes. It worked, as another forehand mistake from Thiem put Federer in complete control in the second set.
A backhand up the line set up match point and another volley into the net from the French Open runner-up ended the day’s second one-sided contest.
The 32-year-old Anderson, who lost just eight points on serve, was on the verge of completing just the second whitewash in the competition’s history until Nishikori won the penultimate game.
“Among the best I’ve played,” Anderson said. “I think I did a really good job constantly applying the pressure and not letting up.”
Despite the resounding defeat, Nishikori’s opening-match victory over Federer means he can still reach the semifinals for the third time.
“I’ll try to forget about today,” Nishikori said. “Something was wrong. I’ve got to fix it tomorrow and try to be positive for the next one.”
Anderson and Nishikori split their last two meetings and the Japanese player held a 5-3 edge in their career head-to-head before this match. However, just as he did in his tournament-opening victory over Thiem on Sunday, Anderson started fast as an aggressive forehand into the corner earned him a 2-0 lead.
Having pledged to donate $100 to the Los Angeles Fire Department, who are fighting deadly wildfires in California, for every ace he struck, Anderson hit three in a row to consolidate the break.
“My coach is from California and so it’s a bit more close to home,” said Anderson, who ended the match with 10 aces. “We thought let’s try — we will donate and do it in a way that is interactive.”
As an increasingly frustrated Nishikori struggled to control his groundstrokes, Anderson displayed relentless accuracy to close out the opening set.
Nishikori took a lengthy break before the start of the second set, but it made no difference as Anderson ruthlessly raced to a 5-0 lead and moved to within one game of joining Federer in the history books. The six-time champion blanked Gaston Gaudio in Shanghai in 2005, but Nishikori finally put together a solid game.
Anderson, the Wimbledon finalist, swiftly completed his 47th win of the season, topping his career-high from 2015.
“Coming into this year I set my goals higher and I have embraced them well,” Anderson said. “I have been able to stay the path throughout the year.”
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