IT was magnificent.

But it was not seven. Roger Federer, the six-time winner of the Barclays ATP Tour Finals, came up short against Novak Djokovic in the O2 Arena last night in a match of unrelenting drama, regular brilliance and shifting momentum. The 25-year-old Serb won a punishing contest after two hours 14 minutes of unforgiving action.

This was the last match of the season and it typified why tennis has increased its grip on its followers.

Loading article content

Federer, at 31, is the master of the indoor game but his ambitious, almost reckless gameplan was thwarted by obduracy and skill of Djokovic who franked his world ranking of No.1 by resisting pressure in the first set and seeing off two set points in the second to record his second victory at this event.

The 7-6 (6), 7-5 scoreline reflects the tightness of the contest and indicates correctly that this was a match decided in moments, in individual errors, in shots of brilliance rather than by sustained dominance by either player.

The most compelling statistic might be the one that shows Federer made 42 unforced errors. This does not suggest the greatest player of all time performed like a schoolboy but it shows he was playing to tight margins and was occasionally straying outside them.

He came up agonisingly close in the end, seeming to be on the verge of levelling at one set all before Djokovic, summoning up all his considerable will and superlative skill, swatted away two set points and went on to win the match with a backhand passing shot of technical excellence and breathtaking invention.

The most stunning reflection in the immediate aftermath of the match was that Djokovic has spent more than 170 hours on court this season but still could end the season with matchless artistry to complement his undoubted peerless athleticism.

Federer could only watch in anguish as the winning shot passed him. His reflection will be that he gave his all and that it just was not good enough in front of his fervent support.

The match started with Federer adopting immediately his aggressive strategy that paid immediate dividends. He won the first nine points and only lost the 10th with an uncharacteristically sloppy forehand.

The Swiss player had divined that Djokovic, the best of retrievers, would have to be beaten by hitting the ball on the paint, therefore shots were struck with an almost reckless abandon. The 17-time grand-slam winner raced to a 3-0 lead in the set but the Serb steadied and won the next three games and then broke in a fabulous ninth game. He also achieved a set point at 5-4 but Federer saved that, broke and eventually took the set to a tie-break.

Djokovic, elbow bleeding following a heavy fall, took his third set point after the great Swiss player had saved the second after a great rally. It had been a mesmerising set but Federer's gameplan could gauged by the unforced error count of 23.

The world No.2 strove immediately to regain initiative, breaking in the first game of the second set and resisted tremendous Djokovic pressure to serve at 5-4 for the set. He then had two set points. And he cracked. Djokovic forced a break point and took it, roaring like a bull in triumph.

The tide had turned on the banks of the Thames. The match was now in the hands of the world No.1 and he took it brutally, wresting the title from Federer by breaking him with a passing shot of stunning finality.