For almost 50 years, the ATP Finals (the event changed the name a few times since 1970) represented the pinnacle of the men's tennis season, gathering the best players in the battle for one of the most prestigious crowns in our sport outside Majors.
In theory, the matches between the Top 10 stars are supposed to bring high-quality tennis and intense battles and we had a chance to see some of the best matches over the last couple of decades at this tournament, usually in the title matches that were played in the best-of-five format before 2008.
On the other hand, there were also many one-sided encounters with one player dominating over the other, ever since Stan Smith crashed Jan Kodes 6-1 6-0 in 1972 in Barcelona. Since then, we could trace about 40 matches with losing competitor failing to take more than three games and the players like Stan Smith, Eddie Dibbs, Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang have missed the opportunity to completely crush their opponents and score a 6-0 6-0 triumph.
That finally changed on November 19, 2005, when two-time defending champion Roger Federer toppled a surprising semi-finalist Gaston Gaudio 6-0 6-0 in 50 minutes for the most one-sided win in the history of the ATP Finals. Gaston scored just 10 wins on the carpet surface before this tournament and he had to survive a roller coaster ride against Fernando Gonzalez the night before Federer clash, saving three match points in a 1-6 7-5 7-5 triumph that took all the energy from him.
This was their 5th and final meeting and Federer was victorious in all of them, including 2 triumphs on clay, and he really destroyed poor Gaudio who failed to grab at least a game for a more decent loss. One of the reasons for such a pale performance from the Argentine also lies in the fact he played a long match against Fernando Gonzalez the night before the semis, saving 3 match points in his 1-6 7-5 7-5 triumph, and that also led to both physical and mental discharge.
It wasn't a flawless from Roger, though, making the same number of errors as his rival but always keeping the strings of the match in his hands, being the natural attacker and the much better mover on this kind of surface.
He mixed his shots nicely, defending his backhand well and using the slice approach to move Gaudio from the ideal position, finishing the points with his picture-perfect volleys. In addition, the Swiss dominated with his serve and forehand and he made the crucial advantage in the shortest points where he overpowered his rival completely.
The Argentinian was unable to make an impact with his serve or the initial groundstroke that would move Roger from the supreme hitting zone, never finding an open space to land his winners and finishing the match with no direct points from his forehand wing! We already mentioned they had the same number of errors but it is all due to the fact that Federer had a positive result all the time, which gave him the freedom to attack and take the rhythm out from his opponent.
Looking at the scoreboard, Gaston probably deserved to win at least one game, with seven deuces in total and two game points he had (one of those on Roger's serve) but he just couldn't play a few good shots in a row, paying the ultimate price in the end.
Federer finished the match with 11 service winners and Gaudio could only hit four, missing these free points badly if he wanted to get his name on the scoreboard. Also, the difference in the direct points from the field was immense, with 17 winners for Roger (eight from forehand and volley each) and just three for Gaston.
Overall, the Swiss fired 28 winners compared to just seven from his rival, a nice illustration of his dominance in this one-way traffic encounter. Things were not that bright for the world number 1 in the errors department, closing the match with 12 unforced errors while Gaudio stayed on eight.
On the other hand, it was 10-6 for the Argentinian in forced errors, leading them towards 18 errors for each. Also, Gaudio's performance was plagued with double faults, hitting nine in total for another reason why he failed to grab at least one game.
Gaston at least managed to stay in touch with Roger in the longer points, losing 20 and winning 14, but he was beaten to the ground in the shortest points up to four strokes where Roger showed his dominance. Federer won 35 out of 46 points in that segment thanks to the more powerful serve and effective forehands right after the initial shot that left Gaudio with no answer.
On Tuesday night, ATP Finals debutant Kevin Anderson had a chance to join Roger on this special feat, leading 6-0 5-0 against Kei Nishikori before the Japanese finally managed to win a game and avoid a complete disaster and to join Gaudio on that negative list.
Kevin scored a 6-0 6-1 win in an hour and four minutes to top the standings in the Lleyton Hewitt group and make another big step towards the place in the semis, as the first player from Africa to achieve that at the elite ATP event.
This was their ninth meeting and the fourth of the season, with the South African dominating from start to finish to grab the fourth win over the Japanese in what was the most one-sided match they have played so far. Nishikori scored a win over Federer in the opening match on Sunday and he played on a very high level since the US Open in general but we saw nothing of that today, with Anderson outplaying him in every department to barely miss a chance to become only the second player who achieved a double bagel at this event.
Kevin earned the 48th win of the season after serving at 78%, hitting 10 aces and dropping eight points in seven service games, never facing a break point. On the other hand, Nishikori landed only 45% of the first serve in and that was a recipe for a disaster, losing 57% of the points in his games and getting broken five times from 12 chances he gave to Anderson.
The South African had 15 winners and 12 unforced errors while Kei counted to 10 winners and 24 mistakes, spraying errors from his forehand and never finding a rhythm to follow that pace of his rival. Kevin made the biggest difference in the shortest points up to four strokes and he blasted a service winner in 42% of the points against one of the best returners in the world.
It was the best possible start for the better-ranked player who lost just three points on serve in the opener to mount the pressure on the other side of the net, scoring a break in the second game after a backhand error from Kei.
With no pace or energy in his shots, Nishikori netted an easy forehand in the fourth game to lose serve again and he squandered three game points in game six to suffer the third straight break after a return winner from Anderson who was 6-0 up after just 31 minutes.
Things went from bad to worse for the Japanese and he sent a backhand long in the second game of the second set to hand his service game once again, with Anderson rattling off 10 straight games following another unforced error from his rival in game four for a 6-0 4-0 advantage.
Serving to stay in the match in game 12, Kei managed to avoid a complete disaster with a hold at 15 but it was all over after another commanding hold from Kevin in the next game, hitting four winners to wrap up one of his most impressive wins over the players from the Top 10 and move closer to the place in the semis. The most one-sided matches best-of-three matches at the ATP Finals: