The only question heading into Sunday's final between Jo-Wilfied Tsonga and Roger Federer was, "could Tsonga defeat the great Federer?" The answer to that question came in the form of a 63 67(6) 63 win by Roger Federer, giving him his 6th Masters Cup title in 10 years of Masters Cup play, and his 5th title won while going undefeated. I don't know about the rest of you, but that is quite an achievement! Roger won in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2011 whilst not losing a match, and only losing one match to Fernando Gonzalez in his 2007 campaign. I could not be more happy about Roger winning the title this week, and I know that it means the world to him to lift the trophy once more. The Masters Cup is the unofficial 5th Slam and it really is the hardest tournament all year to win, so for Fed to have won it 6 times, and 5 of those he went undefeated, is absolutely outstanding no matter how you look at it. Roger also ends the year on a 17-match winning streak, which is remarkable after the devastating US Open defeat. It just shows the heart and passion that he has for the game and the mindset to keep moving forward.
The match started out at a frivolous pace, with both men holding the first few games. Fed showed great patience throughout the first 8 games because Tsonga was plastering the fuzz off the ball on both his serve and his groundstrokes. Roger weathered the Tstorm as Matt Zemek (@mzemek on Twitter) would say. This was very crucial, as he turned up the fire at 4-3 and broke at love, and then held a tough game to close out the set. In the second set, Roger had a chance to break at 1-1 but Tsonga held tough, but Roger broke at 3-2 and looked like he was on his way to winning. But at 5-4, Tsonga played a sizzling game and broke back to even the set. It went to a tiebreak, where Federer held a 5-2 lead at one time, but Tsonga scraped back and saved a championship point at 6-5. He took the final three points to send the final to three. In the third, it was very even, much like the first set, but Roger was playing much better and the fire was back in his eyes. At 4-3, Roger broke after a few chances and all but sealed his win. He held to love at 5-3 and clinched his wonderful 6th Masters Cup title. The elation on Roger's face was heart-warming, and he was so thrilled to have come through in such a big moment.
I did notice that there was a difference between Federer serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set and at 5-3 in the third. In the second set, there was a changeover before Roger served, and that 90-second delay did its job in letting Fed to overthink the game ahead. In the third set, there was no changeover and Roger was able to hold without thinking. I believe he plays his best when he is not overthinking things and just flowing. That is not to say that he does not think when he is at his best, but more that his game really takes over when he goes off his instincts. Another strategy that Roger nailed to peRFection in this match was making it hard for Tsonga to volley by putting the ball at his feet and forcing him to hit up. This was especially important in the games where he broke Jo, and he did not allow the Frenchman to get any rhythm on the serve and volley. Speaking of Jo, my hat goes off to him; he played a great tournament and pushed Roger to the limit in the final, and showed tremendous heart and spirit. I hope he has a great 2012 season.
Now, I want to talk about the amazing career of Roger Federer and how consistent he really has been over the past ten years. To constantly be at your best at the end of the year is amazing, especially when he constantly plays over 75 matches in a season. When others have slowed down towards the end of the year (ahem Djokovic, Nadal, Murray), Federer keeps going strong, and that is why he has six of these prestigious Masters Cup titles. The sheer consistency this man has displayed, from 9 straight years in the top 3 to 10 straight Masters Cups to appearing in 30 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, it is all out of this world. Stats don't lie, and even though Mr Federer himself does not follow the numbers he puts up, people like me do, and we all can't believe it. As far as I am concerned, Roger Federer is not only the greatest tennis player and ambassador to the game, but he is also the greatest athlete ever, and probably the most humble. For all the amount of success he has had, he still doesn't believe that he is better than Sampras and Lendl and other greats of the past. That is just old-fashioned humility, and that's Roger Federer in a nutshell. He works harder than anyone else on and off the court, and for all he has done over the years, he is always looking for more. I think that is the sign of a true champion, that great is never good enough. Roger Federer certainly has that motto down to the letter.
Roger, you are such a great man and I am so proud to call you my hero. Through the good times and the bad times, I will be there to the very end supporting you, and I hope you have a wonderful 2012 season. You were on the cusp of winning a Slam in 2011 and if you can ride the momentum from the end of this year to the start of next year, you will be unstoppable. Keep kicking ass Roger, and go get 'em in 2012.