Roger Federer maintained his fine record at this year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, but only just. Kei Nishikori fought the six-time former champion all the way in a pulsating Group Stan Smith clash, that saw Federer win 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 10 minutes. Federer, who had already qualified for the semi-finals, finishes round-robin play with a 3-0 record and now prepares for a semi-final against the runner-up of Group Ilie Nastase, Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka.
Third seed Federer broke eighth seed Nishikori for a 3-1 lead, but the Japanese star regrouped to win three straight games. Nishikori came within two points of taking a 5-3 lead, but Federer fought hard and lost just three of the next 12 points to take the 48-minute opener. Federer hit 12 winners.
Federer looked set to triumph in straight sets, when he led 4-1, but Nishikori produced a spirited fight back to break serve in the seventh and ninth games. Nishikori calmly closed out to 15, when Federer mis-timed a forehand drop shot into the net. Two of their previous five meetings had gone to three sets.
Federer dug himself out of a hole at 1-1, 0/40 in the decider, when Nishikori’s forehand pierced his defence in lengthly baseline rallies. The mental battle appeared to be won, as Federer ran through the next two games for a 4-1 lead. But Nishikori was not a spent force, getting back to 4-4 to ensure a tense ending for the capacity crowd at The O2 in London.
While Federer held to love for 5-4, a double fault and forehand error from Nishikori proved to be costly. Federer struck his 33rd and final winner, a smash, to wrap up the win.
Federer has now gone 3-0 in group play on nine occasions and has reached the semi-finals on 13 of his 14 appearances.
Federer has a 62-10 match record on the year, including six titles. Nishikori, appearing at the season finale for the second straight year, finishes 2015 with a 54-16 mark and three titles.