A year dominated by Novak Djokovic could end with yet another record racked up by Roger Federer.
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Victory at the ATP World Tour Finals beginning Sunday will give Federer a sixth title at the season-ending event, putting him one clear of Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras.
”It’s a motivation,” Federer said Friday ahead of the tournament for the year’s top eight players. ”That I’ve been able to reach some of these incredible milestones has been amazing and it’s definitely been an extra motivation for me trying to equal them or trying to do something like they did.
”It’s nice to be part of such an elite group, something so rare.”
While Djokovic nurses the shoulder injury that has put a slight damper on a standout season of 69 wins, 4 losses and 10 titles, Federer, the oldest of the eight qualifiers at 30, is fit and in prime form.
Following a six-week break, the 16-time Grand Slam champion picked up back-to-back titles in Basel and Paris to add some shine to a somewhat disappointing season by his standards. His ranking has slipped to No. 4 after reaching only one Grand Slam final, and his recent titles were his first since January.
Federer has been drawn in a group with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, Mardy Fish of the United States and longtime rival Rafael Nadal, whom he beat in last year’s final to draw even with Lendl and Sampras. Nadal still leads their head-to-head record 17-8.
”It is very special, I always enjoy playing against Rafa,” Federer said. ”It goes without saying that I enjoyed that match (last year’s final), but I also enjoyed the matches I lost like the Wimbledon finals, the Rome finals – we’ve had some epic battles against each other and I’m happy that we have another one here.”
Before that, Federer opens his campaign with a seventh match of the year against Tsonga on Sunday. After a quarterfinal loss to the Frenchman at Wimbledon, Federer knows he is up against a dangerous opponent.
”He can win a match by force,” said Federer, who beat Tsonga in the Paris final.
The top-seeded Djokovic will begin his tournament against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic on Monday, when Andy Murray also meets David Ferrer of Spain in Group A.
In Sunday’s other Group B match, Nadal returns to action for the first time since mid-October with a match against first-time qualifier Fish.
The 25-year-old Spaniard took a five-week break ”to recover a little bit physically and mentally” following a surprise loss to Florian Mayer in Shanghai.
However, Nadal was keen to emphasize that he didn’t spend that time worrying about how to stop Djokovic, the player who has beaten him in six finals this year and taken his top ranking.
”All my life I worked for myself, to improve myself. I am not working every day thinking about Novak,” Nadal said. ”Novak is having an unbelievable season, it’s very difficult to repeat this level of tennis, it’s very, very hard.
”If I improve my level, he’s not going to be at this level all his career. The rest of the people will have chances too. Djokovic is not a goal for me. For me, a goal is to be a better player than last year.”
In any case, with three titles and another Davis Cup final with Spain to look forward to, Nadal doesn’t believe this season has been a disaster.
”I played the final of the last three Grand Slams, and I played a good season. I lost a few important matches this season but I won a few tournaments too,” he said.
”I didn’t have the perfect year, but I had a very good year.”