09:57 PM GMT November 10, 2018
Over the years, a round-robin encounter against Kei Nishikori has been a good omen for Roger Federer at the Nitto ATP Finals. On Sunday, the pair will clash once again at The O2 in London.
For the third time in five years, Federer will battle Nishikori in the group stage. They are set to conclude Sunday's night session, taking the court not before 8pm. The Swiss hopes history will repeat itself at The O2.
In 2014, Federer dropped just five games in defeating the Japanese star. A year later, he came through a trickier encounter, saving seven of 12 break points to prevail in three sets. The 37-year-old would go on to reach the final in both editions.
Six-time champion Federer will also look to carry the momentum from two recent meetings against Nishikori. Not only does he own a 7-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head lead, including six consecutive wins since 2014, but he is coming off straight-set victories at the Rolex Shanghai Masters and Rolex Paris Masters.
Nevertheless, Federer acknowledges that he can't take anything for granted, especially at the season finale. With the eight best players in the world in attendance, everyone will be emptying their tanks in the final tournament of the year.
"When I played him in Paris, I knew he was fighting to play in the ATP Finals, but we didn't know what was happening with Nadal and Del Potro yet," said Federer. "But I figured that there was a chance he'd make it and there was a chance we'd play in the group. That's exactly what happened.
"And that's why I tried really hard in Paris to get another win against him, to help me with confidence. I've always said that I like his style of play and he has one of the best backhands in the game. I've had some exciting matches against him. Our match in Shanghai was great. But I'm really happy for him, having made it here after being injured and a rocky start to the season."
Federer will kick off his quest for a staggering 100th tour-level title on Sunday, having moved to the precipice of the milestone with a 99th crown at his hometown Swiss Indoors Basel. He has won more titles in London than any other city with a record eight Wimbledon championships and triumphs at The O2 in 2010 and 2011.
Nishikori, however, will be keen to stop Federer in his tracks. The Japanese is back in London for the fourth time in five years, having failed to qualify for last year's edition due to a wrist injury. But Nishikori has steadily climbed the ATP Rankings in 2018, making significant progress in his comeback campaign.
After sitting at World No. 36 in April, his return to form has been one of the more impressive storylines of the year. Nishikori has shown marked improvement since lifting the ATP Challenger Tour trophy in Dallas in February, also reaching the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final, quarters at Wimbledon, semis at the US Open and a pair of October finals in Tokyo and Vienna.
"It's amazing how Roger is still playing well," said Nishikori. "He's one of the toughest opponents on the tour. While he's not playing as much as he used to, it's amazing how he's so physically fit. For me, I lost to him in Shanghai and Paris recently, so I have to make adjustments on Sunday. But I always enjoy playing him and it's a big challenge. I have to play 100 per cent."
Federer and Nishikori will contest Sunday's nightcap, but fans will first be treated to a Top 10 clash between Kevin Anderson and Dominic Thiem. It will be an intriguing ninth FedEx ATP Head2Head encounter and third of the year.
For four years, Anderson had dominated their budding rivalry. The South African dropped just two sets in six meetings from 2014-2017. Convincing victories at the Australian Open, US Open and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Paris and Toronto had the 32-year-old strengthening his stranglehold.
But that all changed when the calendar flipped to 2018. Their first clay-court clash came at the Mutua Madrid Open and Thiem seized the semi-final encounter 6-4, 6-2. Three months later, the Austrian replicated the result, earning a straight-set win in the US Open fourth round.
As Thiem returns to The O2 for a third straight year, he will hope to kick off his Group Lleyton Hewitt campaign with yet another victory. Having finished 1-2 in both previous trips to the Nitto ATP Finals, getting off to a strong start is critical.
"I've learned a lot from the two previous visits here," said Thiem. "It's probably the best event of the entire year. There are so many new experiences for me here. This year should be different. I've played my best Masters 1000 hard-court event in Paris just last week and I'm feeling fresh. From the first match, I will only face Top 10 stars, so anything can happen. Against Kevin and Kei, I've had matches this year, which went both ways. And against Roger, I still have a positive head-to-head, so I will fight for my life to keep that one."
On the other side of the net, 32-year-old Anderson is set to make his first appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals. He joins 33-year-old John Isner as this year's debutants. They are the oldest first-time qualifiers since 1972.
Wimbledon finalist Anderson will carry great confidence into London, having not only enjoyed great success this year in the city, but also enjoying a strong run of form on indoor hard courts. Both of his 2018 titles - in New York and Vienna - have come on the surface. It is the culmination of a career-year for the South African.
"I need to focus on what I have to do on the court," said Anderson. "Every player is a tough opponent. If I can keep doing what I'm doing, I will be playing the best tennis I can. When I do that, I know I can beat anybody. I have to really compete and I know there are no easy matches. I'm looking forward to starting things off."
Doubles Day 1
Top seeds Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic look to earn their first win in four meetings against eighth-seeded French duo Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. They are seeking revenge after falling in straight sets in this year's Roland Garros final and the Rotterdam championship. The Austrian-Croatian tandem are making their debut as a team, while Herbert and Mahut are here for a fourth consecutive year.
Kicking off the night session is a rematch of the US Open final, as Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo face Mike Bryan and Jack Sock. The Americans prevailed on that day in New York and are making their team debut this week at The O2. Bryan is a four-time champion (w/Bob Bryan) in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2014, while their Polish-Brazilian opponents finished runners-up last year.