The journey onboard the runaway train that is Roger Federer was all too brief, however, for the 17,500 spectators who crammed into the O2 Arena last night for an exhibition of brilliance from a player determined not to be consigned to history at 30 years of age.
Supporters of Federer would have the slightest regret at their champion only taking 60 minutes to defeat Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-0. This was a show they could have watched for hours instead of only an hour.
Nadal’s fans could only be aghast at the brevity of the contest. Their man is a warrior who normally is carried out on his shield in defeat. Yet after some traditional resistance in the first set, the world No.2 came to as close to a capitulation in the second as the tennis world is ever likely to see from him.
Federer, who now qualifies for the semi-finals stage of the Barclays ATP World Tour finals with a match against Mardy Fish to come, was brilliant on both sides, putting away anything short with his forehand and wafting his backhand with malevolent intent.
Nadal was peculiarly impotent. Hard court is not his favourite surface and Federer, who had a losing 17-8 record against his rival, had won the three previous indoor meetings. However, it was the scale of the triumph that took the breath away.
After breaking at 3-2 in the first after a rally so long it contained an ad break, Federer simply moved into another zone. Instead of being a vibrant battler, Nadal looked a weary plodder. The Spaniard’s absence from the tour has coincided with the Swiss player’s return to winning titles.
It was not difficult to identify the winner of tournaments in Basel and Paris from the player who has been out of action since mid-October in Shanghai.
Federer, an unlikely favourite coming into the tournament given his early-season form, proved yet again that he finds the tour finals a place to do some decent business. He is already first in line for the $1.6m prize that goes to the winner and will be eyeing yet another record by being the first player to win six tour finals.
Nadal, the wounded Spanish matador, will be measured for a brutal goring by the rampaging bull that is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman defeated Fish 7-6, 6-1 and takes on the world No.2 with a place in the semi-finals at stake.
The world No.6 said he had a chance of upsetting Nadal, pointing out that the hard court would suit his game. “I know it is difficult for my opponent to break my serve on this surface,” he said.
However, last night it was the Fed Express that roared loudest. Federer, a winner of 16 grand slam titles, said the victory over his greatest rival had been one of his best. “I am a little bit stunned,” he said. Nadal, he said, normally does not “fall below a certain standard”.
He fell below the wheels of a well-oiled machine last night.
Federer summed it up. “We’ve played so many times, sometimes it just derails for you, like it derailed for Rafa today,” he said. “Once you start rolling, it’s hard to stop the player. So for him it was hard today.”
The next stop is the semi-finals for Federer. He is increasingly confident that he is heading ultimately for a lucrative final destination on Sunday.