It was Alexander Zverev who knocked out the legendary Swiss 12 months ago en route to the crown, and on Saturday it was the turn of Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek talent won a gargantuan ninth game of the opening set as part of a 6-3 6-4 victory over tennis’ best supported player, a day after Tsitsipas fell in an extended thriller against another of the game’s behemoths, Rafael Nadal.
Following Friday’s near three-hour duel, Tsitsipas said he still had enough left in the tank to face the 20-time grand slam winner.
He wasn’t bluffing as it turned out, although how things might have been different had Federer broken in the first game when given the opportunity.
The O2 is a concert and entertainment venue and Tsitsipas could very well be a headline act as a magician. Such has been his penchant for escaping from tight situations.
Overall he saved 11 of 12 break chances — after saving all 12 when he stunned Federer in the fourth round at January’s Australian Open. If that wasn’t enough, he fended off seven of nine versus Nadal.
Meanwhile he went three of four himself after not breaking Federer in their past two tussles in Dubai and Basel.
It certainly felt like Federer was well on his way to a record-extending seventh title at the ATP Finals when he eased past Novak Djokovic on Thursday in their Wimbledon final rematch but it wasn’t to be for the 38-year-old.
If it’s any consolation to him, Tsitsipas figures to be a grand slam winner in the future. And maybe soon. He has beaten the “Big Three” of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic this season.
Tsitsipas, whose mom was a former tennis player, will face either Zverev or Dominic Thiem on Sunday. They meet in the night semifinal.
Slow start for Federer
Usually a lightning quick starter, Federer was instead rusty, Saturday. Tsitsipas saved a break chance in the first game and immediately broke in a game where Federer — incredibly for him — missed a pair of overheads. He also found it difficult on his forehand and never quite got the consistency on that side, hitting 17 unforced errors and seven winners.
More break points passed Federer by in the seventh game of the opening set, before the hugely important ninth game.
Tsitsipas may have held seven set points but it was Federer who manufactured a break point before all that.
A pair of stunning Federer returns on set point extended the game but then he erred on a return to Tsitsipas’ relief.
Tsitsipas won the set by three games but only won three more points overall, an indication of just how much pressure he was under on serve — and how Federer cruised on serve barring one game.
Federer committed 12 unforced errors in the first after hitting five all match against Djokovic.
The crowd willed Federer on yet, seemingly reeling, he was broken to love to trail 2-1 in the second.
This time his response was immediate, though not straightforward. Tsitsipas got out of a 0-40 hole, earned a game point, then was broken on a forehand error for 2-2.
What happened next? Tsitsipas broke straight back.
It seemed only fitting that Tsitsipas saved two more break points in the final game.
Federer departed as the crowd favorite, unsurprisingly, but it was his opponent who will be returning Sunday to fight for the crown.