Federer, who kicked off his ATP Finals campaign with a 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Jack Sock on Sunday afternoon, could have kept his chances of ending the year as No. 1 alive had he competed at the Paris Masters two weeks ago.
But the Swiss, who clinched an eighth Basel title last month, pulled out from the final Master 1000 event of the season to rest ahead of the ATP Finals, which allowed Nadal to secure the year-end No. 1 in Paris.
Asked if he had any regrets over that decision and if he wished the top ranking would still be up for grabs this week in London, Federer said: “He (Nadal) was better throughout the year. He played more tournaments. He was incredibly successful throughout. So, no, I don’t have any regrets because I feel like in my stage of my competition, my age, either it comes to me or it doesn’t.
“He had more gas left in the tank than I did. I couldn’t play as much as I’ve wanted, or I overplayed anyway.
“My only regret was I would have loved to be in contention through the Montreal finals, Cincinnati, US Open. But things evaporated very quickly after he won the US Open. That’s when he made his final push, was in Asia. That was it for me really.
“In some ways I’m happy he clinched it because he deserves it. And like this, I can focus on playing the tournament, and not having to talk about that at the same time.
“But, sure, I would have loved to be it, but you can’t be it with that many tournaments, so it’s no problem for me.”
Heading into London, Federer had played 53 matches in 2017 compared to 77 for Nadal. The Swiss has astonishingly lost just four matches this season to record a 92.6 winning percentage.
The 36-year-old is gunning for a seventh ATP Finals trophy this week while Nadal is seeking a first.
The Spaniard told reporters in London on Friday that one of the reasons he has never won the ATP Finals in any of his seven previous appearances is the fact that the tournament is always played on indoor hard courts, which is not his best surface.
Nadal has long voiced his opinion over this subject, and believes the tournament should switch surfaces and locations.
Federer was asked on Sunday if he thought it would be fair if the season finale would take place at least one time on clay – which is Nadal’s favoured surface.
“’Fair’? I’m not sure if it’s the right word,” replied Federer.
“But I think it’s right and fair that it’s indoors, as well. There is no Masters 1000s on grass. There is one Masters 1000 indoors: Paris. So I feel like indoors also deserves its place, you know.
“Could it be switched up to clay once in a while? Yeah, maybe. Could we have more 1000s on grass? Yeah, we could have that, too. Could we have less on clay, more or hard courts? Could we have more or hard courts, less on clay? Yes, it’s all debatable.
“I think it’s not the time of the year for clay, so there you have it,” the world No. 2 added with a smile. “You can do indoor clay, I guess, but that’s a bit silly. But I get his point, and it’s a fair point.”
This is the first time since 2010 that Nadal and Federer are the top two seeds at the ATP Finals.
Nadal begins his assault on a maiden title here on Monday night against David Goffin.
It’s been quite a year…
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 12, 2017
The United States claimed their first Fed Cup title for 17 years as Shelby Rogers and CoCo Vandeweghe beat Belarus pair Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich in a deciding doubles rubber in the final on Sunday.
Vandeweghe and Rogers won 6-3, 7-6 (3) to give the Americans a 3-2 final victory and an 18th Fed Cup crown.
“I’m just really thrilled for all four players,” said US captain Kathy Rinaldi. “CoCo (Vandeweghe) came out and just played unbelievable. Shelby (Rogers) stepped up and Sloane (Stephens) — my heart was broken for her, but she battled this whole weekend, she battled all the way to the end. I’m so proud of all four of them.”
Earlier on Sunday, Vandeweghe put the USA 2-1 up by beating Sabalenka 7-6 (5), 6-1, while Sasnovich battled back from a set down to beat Sloane Stephens 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 to draw Belarus level at 2-2.
The 19-year-old Sabalenka and Sasnovich, 23, dropped a serve apiece in the first set and the Americans surged in front after just 26 minutes.
The Belarus duo replied positively and broke both Vandeweghe and Rogers in the second to move 5-2 ahead but the visitors then broke back twice to level at 5-5.
In a tense conclusion, the hosts broke Rogers again but the American pair would not buckle despite the intense atmosphere of a Minsk crowd desperate to see a first home Fed Cup triumph.
Sabalenka dropped serve again to send the set to the tiebreak where the experienced US duo triumphed.
In Sunday’s early match Sabalenka and Vandeweghe both played with confidence under the watchful gaze of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko on the hard-court at the packed Minsk Chizhovka 8,000-seat arena.
The 25-year-old American took the opening set after 50 minutes winning it in a tiebreak.
In the second Sabalenka, who is 78th in the world, suddenly lost her nerve allowing Vandeweghe to break twice before she took the set and the match sealing her victory with an accurate backhand.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 12, 2017
“I knew if I just kept giving myself opportunities and getting my nose in front in her service games, I’d keep getting opportunities and she’d eventually break down,” Vandeweghe said.
“She did what she’s supposed to do and did what I expected her to do – just swing and pray for it to go in and she did. So you just got to recover and keep fighting.
“And then it showed in the second set, she withered when I kept the pressure on her, and then I just closed it out.”
Later Sunday, US Open champion Stephens, 24, broke her rival’s serve early in the opening set to lead 1-0 after 42 minutes.
But in the second Sasnovich broke twice to level at one set all after one hour 10 minutes on court.
In the deciding set, Stephens led 5-2 before Sasnovich, 23, roared back with four straight games before eventually closing it out 8-6 as Stephens suffered her sixth straight defeat since winning her maiden Grand Slam title in New York in September.
“It was one of the most tense matches in my life,” Sasnovich said.
“I gave everything I have for the win, the god of tennis was on my side today. The support of the crowd helped me to stay concentrated throughout the game. It was a fantastic match.”
On the opening day Vandeweghe put USA into the lead with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sasnovich, while Sabalenka beat Stephens 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to pull the scores level at 1-1.
Belarus were without former world number one Victoria Azarenka who was forced to remain in the United States to fight a custody battle over her baby son.
Sitting in front of Roger Federer while he speaks about the size of Jack Sock’s bum is not what anyone expected from day one of the ATP Finals in London on Sunday.
Yet two decades into his career, Federer is still able to surprise us and that was certainly an interesting curveball.
In the seventh game of the first set during Federer’s opener against Sock, the two opponents came face to face up at the net, with the former having an open shot on his forehand for the pass winner.
Knowing there wasn’t much he could do to cover the net, Sock simply turned around and bent over, and his tactic worked as Federer netted his passing shot attempt.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) November 12, 2017
“It was a big distraction, I’ll tell you that, because it was very big,” Federer said, sending the room into laughter.
“That’s what I should have aimed for. That target was bigger than the down-the-line court that I had. It’s happened sometimes in the past, but not on a big stage like this.”
Sock explained himself in his press conference saying: “I did it more for fun. Probably do it three times a year. No, it’s not a normal tactic.”
Federer claimed a 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Sock to claim his 50th victory of the season and begin his assault on a seventh ATP Finals title with routine success.
BEST OF FRENEMIES
Meanwhile, a suited-up Rafael Nadal received his year-end world No.1 trophy on centre court after Federer’s win.
Federer was in contention for the year-end top ranking up until a couple of weeks ago, but his withdrawal from the Paris Masters gave way for Nadal to grab it himself.
Even though he would have wanted to be the one receiving that trophy, Federer was happy to stick around and celebrate Nadal’s achievement on Sunday.
“I was supposed to do the Sky interview afterwards, and they wanted to talk to me about the tactical element of the match. The Rafa trophy presentation was going on. They said, ‘Is it okay to wait?’
“I said, ‘Well, yeah, I better wait because this is a big deal. This is a huge thing’.”
What a special kind of rivalry those two share!