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Old master Federer rolls back years with routine opening win

By Paul Newman

Two weeks after Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers enthralled a capacity crowd here in the O2 Arena, Roger Federer proved on the same stage that advancing years can be brushed aside by veteran tennis players as well as by ageing rockers.

Federer is the oldest player to qualify for the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals since the tournament's first incarnation as the Masters in 1970, but the 36-year-old Swiss looked as sprightly as ever when he opened the singles proceedings here yesterday with a 6-4, 7-6 victory over Jack Sock.

Wimbledon, where Federer became the first man to win the singles title eight times this summer, is the tournament above all others with which he will forever be associated, but his domination of this event is almost as impressive. He holds the record for the most titles (six), most finals (10), most appearances (15) and most prize money won ($14.35m or £10.9m).

Federer's run of 14 successive appearances in this tournament ended when he missed the second half of last season because of a knee injury, but he has bounced back in stunning style in 2017.

The oldest world No 2 in history has lost only four matches this year and won 12 of his 13 meetings with top 10 opponents. Despite having played a limited schedule of only 12 tournaments, he has already won seven titles.

When Federer made his debut in this competition in 2002 Sock had just turned 10 and was starting to find his way around a tennis court, having first picked up a racket two years earlier. At 25 he is enjoying the best season of his career and will end the year as the highest-ranked American for the first time.

Only a week ago Sock was ranked No 22 in the world and outside the qualifying places for London, which are filled by the eight men who have earned the most ranking points in the year. He qualified by becoming the first non-European to claim a Masters Series title for seven years, winning in Paris last Sunday, having trailed 5-1 to Britain's Kyle Edmund in the final set of his opening match.

Sock had not won a set in his three previous meetings with Federer and that pattern rarely looked like changing. Although the only one break of serve came in the opening game, Federer never seemed in any danger.

The Swiss served with all his usual guile and consistency, dropping just 11 points in his 11 service games. Sock, who is the first American to play here for six years, made very few punishing returns, unlike Federer.

On the very first point Federer hit a backhand winner and on the second his clever shot to feet forced Sock into a volley error. Three points later a winning inside-out forehand took the Swiss to break point, which he converted with a sumptuous backhand winner down the line.

Federer served out for the first set and had Sock in trouble on his serve for most of the second. The American saved two break points at 3-3, two more at 4-4 and one more at 5-5. In the tie-break he retrieved a mini-break before serving his sixth double fault at 4-4, after which Federer served out to complete his victory in just over an hour and a half. Federer was asked afterwards how he felt Andy Murray had played when they met in a charity event in Glasgow last week. It was the Scot's first match since he struggled through Wimbledon with a hip injury.

"I think in some ways it was a brave move for him to just put himself out there and give it a go because nobody really knew how he was doing," Federer said. "I was actually happy how he was playing. Definitely he can move better, he can serve better. For a start, I think it was actually quite encouraging and actually OK."

• The United States won the Fed Cup for the first time in 17 years with a dramatic victory over Belarus in Minsk.

Coco Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers beat Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3 7-6 (7-3) in the deciding doubles rubber to give the visitors a 3-2 win in the best-of-five tie.

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