Here are three burning questions ahead of Saturday’s semis…
HAS FEDERER WON THIS ALREADY?
Looking at the four semi-finalists, Federer is a six-time ATP Finals champion and has made the last-four 14 times in 15 appearances, while the other three are all first-time semi-finalists at the tournament.
It’s the first time since Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Gilles Simon made the semis in 2008 that the tournament has witnessed three first-time semi-finalists all at once.
Federer is a combined 15-0 against the other three players still standing at the O2 Arena and considering his experience at the tournament, his indoor hard-court prowess, and the way he’s been playing this week, it’s hard looking past him for the title on Sunday.
A possible rematch with Sock in the final for Federer could be tricky simply because they had just faced off earlier in the week and the American is actually playing some great tennis and can make some adjustments from the tight two-set loss he suffered to Federer.
Dimitrov is in great form and they’re the only two players to go undefeated through the round robin stage this week.
But he’s never beaten Federer in any of their six previous meetings and the Swiss can do everything Dimitrov does, but slightly better. Getting past Sock will not be easy either from the Bulgarian but still, Dimitrov has lost just two games in each of his last two matches and looks like a man on a mission. There’s always a first time for everything, right?
HOW BIG OF A THREAT IS SOCK?
The simple answer is: very big! The American snuck into the field at the last minute, winning his first Masters 1000 crown in Paris just days before the tournament and he’s been playing some impressive tennis since.
Making his ATP Finals debut, Sock pushed Federer in two tight sets in his opener before defeating Marin Cilic in a third-set tiebreak and defeating No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev.
Sock thought he would be on holiday this week but instead, he surprised himself and everyone else by making that run at the Paris Masters and making it to London. With big weapons that can trouble anyone on this surface, the American has shown what he’s capable of already, and he’ll be a tough nut to crack for a high-flying Dimitrov, who trails Sock 1-3 head-to-head (Sock won their last three meetings).
CAN DIMITROV KEEP THIS UP?
The Bulgarian is 18-5 since the start of Cincinnati (which he won) and it seems he’s ending the year the same way he started it – by playing incredible tennis. Dimitrov hasn’t just been playing differently, his entire demeanour has changed. He’s been great in press conferences, and he says he feels like he “belongs” at this level.
His game is up there right now and it’s going to be a matter of if he can keep calm and maintain his nerveless form he’s displayed so far this tournament.
A final between him and Federer would be epic.
David Goffin admitted on Friday he doesn’t “know what to do” against semi-final opponent Roger Federer at the ATP Finals.
Goffin dismantled fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1 to set up a last-four contest against the Swiss great on Saturday, but was not full of confidence about his chances at London’s O2 Arena.
“I’ve never found a key to beat Roger,” said the seventh seed, who earlier in the week launched his tournament by beating world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in three gruelling sets.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to do tomorrow. But I’m going to try something, something different, something that I’ve never done in the past.”
The Belgian has never beaten 19-time Grand Slam champion Federer in six matches and most recently clashed with him in Basel last month, where he won just three games in a one-sided contest.
“I will try to do my best to play a better match than in Basel, for sure,” he told reporters at his post-match press conference.
“In Basel it was not easy. He played well. He didn’t miss. He was really aggressive, as always. He returned so well. So it was not easy in Basel.
“I hope that tomorrow he’s not going to play the same match. But I will try something different for sure.”
The 26-year-old said he would have to change his game plan from the one he used against Nadal earlier in the week as he was facing six-time winner Federer on one of his favoured surfaces.
“Against Roger, on his best surface, it’s indoor,” said Goffin.
“It’s this surface, along with the grass. There is no wind. It’s tough to play higher, to find the loop when you play here on this kind of surface.
“It’s not easy. It’s perfect for Roger. But I will try, like I said, to do my best tomorrow to find some solutions, try to play my game, yeah, be aggressive. If he’s aggressive and he hits the ball really hard with his forehand, he’s dangerous.”
At 180cm and 68kg, Goffin cuts a slight figure in comparison to most of the players on tour. But he’s been punching well above his weight over the past two seasons, and has made the most of his opportunities to rise to his current position of No. 8 in the world rankings.
Federer knows the Belgian well, and they spent some time practicing in Dubai a couple of years ago.
The Swiss world No. 2 says Goffin “deserves” to be at the ATP Finals and is wary of the 26-year-old despite his comfortable 6-0 winning record against him.
“We have the likes of (Kei) Nishikori and other players who are also not that big and strong but fast on their legs and return very well, I think that’s a big strength of his (Goffin’s), he can return great, especially off the second serve, he can take a lot of time away from you,” said Federer earlier this week.
“He’s fast on his feet, I like how he moves, he’s smooth, he’s a good anticipator as well, and he’s really improved his serve. It’s getting better and better.
“When I practiced with him a couple of years back in Dubai, I was highly impressed with his work ethic as well. His fitness level is very high, he’s able to stay very focused for a long period of time, that shows he can play full seasons for the next 10 years I’m sure.
“And it’s nice it’s all paying off, that he made the World Tour Finals and stayed calm under pressure and almost exceeded his expectations at the end by winning two tournaments in Asia, put himself in a great position to qualify at the end. He made the most of his opportunities with everybody getting hurt. He deserves to be here.”
Roger Federer insists he has no regrets over not playing more tournaments even though he knows he might end the season just a few points behind world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the world rankings.
The Swiss world No. 2 has gone undefeated in the round robin stage at the ATP Finals this week, claiming his third win in as many matches on Thursday with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-1 over Marin Cilic, who had also lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final in London four months ago.
If Federer wins the ATP Finals, he will finish 2017 a mere 140 points behind Nadal in the rankings.
The 36-year-old has played just 12 tournaments this year — winning seven of them so far — but suffered surprise early upsets by Russian world No. 116 Evgeny Donskoy in the Dubai second round, and Germany’s Tommy Haas in their opener in Stuttgart.
Federer, who had told reporters on Tuesday how much more “ranking-conscious” players are when they are younger, says he’s not too fussed about missing out on the top spot this season.
“Regrets, I don’t have any. But maybe losing to Tommy Haas and Donskoy ended up haunting me,” he said with a smile. “I had match points in both matches. It’s not like I didn’t try.
“To have regrets because of these matches, you know, if I miss out because of that for world No. 1, then maybe I was unlucky. But I also did win matches in Miami, saving match points against (Tomas) Berdych, other matches throughout the season that it could have been gone either way as well. In Australia, (Kei) Nishikori. You name it. Things could have turned very quickly much earlier.
“So I’m just happy I’m playing a great season. I’m so happy that I was able to reach this level of play and still being able to play also at the end of the year. It wasn’t just, like, one tournament at the beginning, then nothing after that. So it was just throughout I’ve had a great year.
“I have no regrets because I totally over-exceeded my expectations. Just happy I’m injury-free and healthy right now, enjoying myself still.”
Federer tops Group Boris Becker and will face either Dominic Thiem or David Goffin in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Since the start of the year to date, Federer has lost just four matches and is enjoying a tremendous season.
Will it be on his mind to target the No. 1 ranking next year, knowing he can be ever so close to Nadal in the standings?
“I have 2,000 points to defend in Australia, he doesn’t. So there’s the problem already. I know he has a lot of points to defend, too, in Australia, but not as many as me,” Federer noted.
“That’s why I always said, look, it’s not a realistic goal in some ways, you know, world No. 1. It is interesting. It’s the ultimate achievement in tennis in some ways, it always has been for me. But at this age, it just can’t be because I think I’ll make mistakes if I start chasing it.
“I’m not sure how much the body allows me to chase goals like this. Maybe if I start thinking about it too often and too much, I think I’m maybe also not playing the way I’m supposed to be playing, maybe I tense up, maybe I’m nervous, maybe that’s not good for my back. Who knows what it is.
“Still far away from being close in the points with Rafa. Still need to win this tournament before it’s actually really close. I’m only in the semis. The big points are really coming in now. So that’s why my focus is on the semis. If I would win that, of course it’s just on the finals.”