Roger Federer described it as “a dream final toward the back end of our careers.”

His words were a revealing personal assessment of the Swiss Indoors championship match-up between himself and longtime rival Rafael Nadal on Sunday.

Following Federer’s 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory, the two modern-era greats have now played 34 career matches with Nadal holding a 23-11 advantage. It’s unlikely they will meet many more times before one or the other decides to retire. This week at the Paris-Bercy event they are on opposite sides of the draw but there’s a 50-50 chance they could face each other in two weeks in the round-robin portion at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Before Sunday’s final in Basel there was a lot of speculation about whether winning the match – their first since the 2014 Australian Open and with Federer attempting to end a five-match losing skid dating back to 2012 – would mean more to Federer or Nadal.

There seemed to be a consensus that it meant more to Nadal but it actually probably was more important to Federer.

Look at it this way – if there has been any rap against Federer’s magnificent career it has been his underwhelming head-to-head record versus Nadal. It’s not hard to imagine that his Swiss compatriots are displeased, to say the least, that their sainted Roger has been roughed up on so many big occasions by rugged Rafa.

Playing in his old hometown of Basel, there was even more pressure. In an interview early last week, he admitted there simply wasn’t enough time for him to fulfill all the demands on him during the tournament.

Proof that he was feeling more edgy than usual came during his quarter-final match against David Goffin. When the Belgian broke to lead 4-2 in the second set, in a very un-Federer-like fit of pique, he whacked a ball high up into the stands and got a warning for ball abuse from umpire Ali Nili.

Who knows how many more times Federer will play the Basel event – this was his 16th – so Sunday was a golden opportunity to win it for a seventh time, and probably more importantly, record a victory at home over his arch rival.

It was especially so because everyone knew Nadal had not been playing his best in 2015 and that on indoor hard courts he has a undistinguished record – only having won one career title (Madrid). And that was just over a decade ago in 2005.

pix2-action The thought crossed the mind about whether Federer would rather beat Nadal in Basel or win the upcoming ATP World Tour Finals in London. He has won the year-end event six times so it seemed likely that a redemptive victory over Nadal in the Swiss Indoors might mean more, particularly because it would remain ingrained in the memories of the home folk.

From Nadal’s side, he has struggled all of 2015 despite winning clay-court titles in Buenos Aires in February and Hamburg in July, as well as one on grass in June in Stuttgart.

His record for the year against top-five players entering Sunday’s final was 1-5, with the lone win coming in Shanghai three weeks ago, 6-2, 6-1 over a remarkably uninspired Stan Wawrinka.

In his other matches against top-five opposition in 2015, he had not won a set in three losses to No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic or any against No. 4 Kei Nishikori (Montreal). Then there was that abysmal 6-3, 6-2 defeat in the Madrid final on clay against Andy Murray.

His four matches in Basel leading up to Sunday’s final had all been seesaw, nerve-wracking affairs. In the first round, Lukas Rosol served for the match in the second set and then made three egregious forehand errors leading 4-2 in the final set tiebreak before losing 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(4). There following three-set wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic when he was down a break in almost every set. Even in his only two-set victory, over Richard Gasquet in the semifinals, the Frenchman led 4-2 in both sets and had two set points at 6-4 in the second set tiebreak before going down 6-4, 7-6(6).

“It’s been a very emotional week,” Nadal said after the final, “all the matches a lot of fight. I believe it has been a very important week for me for this year but, at the same time, also for the future.”

Obviously a win over Federer would have been a major morale boost, especially as it would have come with the added significance of a long-awaited second career indoor title. But for Nadal, unlike Federer, there weren’t all the personal attachments and promotional entanglements involved in playing at home. (Below that’s Federer’s sister Diana courtside left front beside their mother Lynette. It was nice to see white-haired papa Robert, who rarely sits beside Lynette, happily touch hands in celebration with his wife right after their son won.)


Frequently, it’s an over-simplification to say a match turned on certain points but…Federer’s dazzling running forehand passing shot, when Nadal had a break-back point trailing 3-2 in the opening set, was a statement that certainly pumped up his confidence. In the past, the latter has often evaporated when confronted with the left-handed Spaniard and his weighty, uber top-spun, cross-court forehand.

This year, that forehand has let down Nadal in many situations. When he led 40-30 on serve at 3-4 in the final set, it did so again on Sunday. He missed two fairly elementary forehands into the net and then a backhand long on the ultimate break point.

In the final game, after saving one championship point with a backhand service return on half of the sideline, he misfired long with a forehand service return to give Federer his 88th career title and his seventh in Basel. That’s a total he has surpassed on grass in Halle (eight) and equaled at Wimbledon, Dubai and Cincinnati.


“I was really happy how I played and it was a very special day,” Federer summed up. “I know I’ve had better backhand days and he’s had better forehand days than today. But the match was high quality and it was entertaining and exciting for both of us as well. The confidence is good, no doubt about that. It’s good to get back into the mood of winning after Shanghai (a surprise opening-round loss to Albert Ramos two weeks earlier).”

Federer, like any truly elite athlete, is prideful and a loss to Nadal in Basel, when everything seemed to be setting up for him, would have been crushing.

As it is, he was able to reaffirm his indoor mastery over Nadal, a head-to-head that now stands at 6-1 in his favour, with all previous meetings coming at the ATP year-end championships between 2005 and 2013.


The man who was once a Basel ballkid got to celebrate with the current generation, giving out commemorative medals after the final. That came in front of a reverential crowd in his 10th appearance in the championship match, which is a record number for a player at any ATP tournament. It almost seemed like the 34-year-old Swiss was finally able to exhale after a week capped by a big win over his eternal nemesis in front of an adoring/expectant public.

Worrying about Rafa


There have to be legitimate concerns about whether or not Rafael Nadal has seen his best days in tennis.

Among the most jarring evidence on the negative side is that 2015 marks the first time in 11 years – since 2005 – that he has not won a Grand Slam tournament. (Those 10 years in a row is even more than Federer, whose best is eight years – 2003-2010 – with at least one Grand Slam title.)

Equally, the nine-time Roland Garros champion, while winning minor clay-court titles in Buenos Aires and Hamburg, failed for the first time since 2004 to win a single clay-court event during the spring European season. That was a highly unusual and improbable circumstance for the erstwhile ‘King of Clay.’


At the Grand Slam tournaments in 2015, he lost twice in the quarter-finals – Australian Open to Tomas Berdych and Roland Garros to Novak Djokovic – as well as in the second round of Wimbledon to Dustin Brown and the third round of the US Open to Fabio Fognini.

Until some tape appeared below his right knee at times during the Basel semifinal against Richard Gasquet and the final against Federer, Nadal had apparently had a basically injury-free year. That has been encouraging to all fans of the gritty Majorican but, at the same time, it has not been followed by the anticipated results. He is currently ranked No. 6 and has just barely more than half (4630) the points of the No. 2-ranked Federer (8,250). Novak Djokovic, alone in his own stratosphere, is perched at the top with a ridiculous 15,785 points.

Of greatest concern is that Nadal has been healthy and yet that has not enabled him to regain his top form. A main reason can be found in the fact that he has often been outspoken about his nerves and lack of confidence.

“My goal is to get back to my level and be competitive against the top players again,” he said Sunday.

He insists he will work hard in the upcoming off-season to try to achieve that goal. But if the issue is mental, it’s hard to see what he can do about that in practice. In the upcoming year when he turns 30 in June, whether the old Rafa reemerges will only be determined by how he performs at major tour events – beginning Down Under at the Australian Open starting on January 18th.

An anti-climax climax


The BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore were destined to be a disappointment the moment it was learned that world No. 1 Serena Williams had chosen to take a pass on the $6.5 million year-end championships.

But who could have imagined Agnieszka Radwanska, a late qualifier for the event who lost her first two matches in round-robin action, would wind up as the champion of an event touted as the tour’s season-ending extravaganza.

Radwanska, who entered the 2015 season with Martina Navratilova as a highly-publicized coaching addition, had basically done nothing and beaten nobody all year. The Navratilova association bit the dust after a few months and Radwanska floundered until the fall when she won the title in Tokyo (over No. 15 Belinda Bencic in the final) and in Tianjin (over No. 75 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro).

Entering the month of October, here were some of her head-to-heads for 2015: 0-4 vs Garbiñe Muguruza, 0-3 vs. Venus Williams, 0-1 vs. Maria Sharapova, 0-1 vs. Petra Kvitova, 0-1 vs. Caroline Wozniacki, 0-1 vs. Simona Halep and 0-1 vs. Angelique Kerber.

In Singapore, she lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Maria Sharapova in the Russian’s first completed match since July and then 7-6(5), 6-4 to Flavia Pennetta before finally getting a 7-6(5), 6-1 win over a leg-weary Simona Halep.

Qualifying ahead of Pennetta and Halep from her group, Radwanska outlasted a fatigued Muguruza 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the semifinals. The Spaniard, who went 3-0 in the round robin but had no days off because she was also in the doubles event, paid the price for being over-extended.

In the final, Radwanska was able to outlast Petra Kvitova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 as the powerful Czech, asthmatic and still bothered by mononucleosis, fizzled in the late going. The final game said a lot – it consisted of a three unforced errors by Kvitova and a net cord that trickled over for Radwanska.

So, Radwanska won with a winning percentage for the week of 60 per cent (3-2) while the round-robin undefeated Sharapova and Muguruza were 75 per cent (3-1).

Tennis tournaments always have to have a winner and Radwanska was the one in Singapore. Still, it’s hard to believe the best player triumphed. Maybe the most compelling match of the week featured the two (pictured at top) who are the best, Kvitova and Sharapova. The Czech emerged victorious in a highly-competitive, big-hitting 6-3, 7-6(3) contest when Sharapova’s lack of match play over the past few months may have caught up with her.

The glamorous Russian had beaten Radwanska 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in her first Singapore match when the 26-year-old Pole looked like anything but the eventual champion. Sometimes appearances can be deceptive.

Zhao shines at Tevlin Challenger


The $50,000 Tevlin Challenger, held at Sobeys Stadium in Toronto last week, proved to be a showcase for the talent of 20-year-old Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont. Zhao won three matches, including 6-4, 6-3 over former (2011) world No. 11 Shahar Peer of Israel, before losing to top seed and eventual winner Tatjana Maria of Germany in the semifinals.

Zhao, who has a well-rounded, athletic game, was particularly adept at closing out points on the volley.

With the result, her ranking rose from No. 399 to No. 341. That puts her third place among Canadians behind No. 48 Genie Bouchard and No. 300 Gabriela Dabrowski.

If she is able to free herself from her third-year studies at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Zhao will have to be considered as a singles player for Canada in its first round Fed Cup World Group II match-up against Belarus in Quebec City the first week of February next year.

There was also Tevlin success for a Canadian in doubles as Sharon Fichman of Toronto and Maria Sanchez of the U.S. combined to defeat American Kristie Ahn and Fanni Stollar of Hungary 6-2, 6-7(6) [10-6] in the final.

Poetic justice

Photo: ATP World Tour

Two weeks ago Tebbutt Tuesday focused on the players who had won and lost matches in 2015 after experiencing match point. It was noted that the big loser this year had been Roberto Bautista Agut who had gone on to defeat in four matches after holding match point (or points).

Fortune smiled on the 27-year-old Spaniard in the semifinals of the ATP 250 event in Valencia last Saturday. The current world No. 24 saved six match points against Steve Johnson of the U.S. to reach the final where he was beaten 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 by Joao Sousa of Portugal.

The half dozen match points Bautista Agut survived in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(8) victory over Johnson tied him in second place with Jerzy Janowicz and Martin Klizan for the most match points saved in a 2015 win. Heading the list is Jeremy Chardy with the seven he miraculously navigated in a memorable 6-7(9), 7-6(13), 7-6(4) quarter-final win over John Isner at Rogers Cup in Montreal in August.