But one impressive straight-sets win (6-4, 6-3) against fourth seed Kevin Anderson later, and the 37-year-old is through round-robin play atop Group Lleyton Hewitt, atpworldtour.com reported.
Suddenly, a major milestone is within reach. If Federer wins two more matches, he will lift his 100th tour-level trophy, with Jimmy Connors (109 titles) the only other player who has achieved the feat.
“Personally I'm still not thinking of the number, 100. I won't let that get in my head, make me go crazy because it should be something I'm excited about and not something I should feel extra pressure [to earn],” Federer said. “It's just going to be hard to finish it. I'm happy I gave myself the opportunity. I'm happy that I'm raising my level of play throughout this week. This is what I hope to do. It's exciting to be in this situation now, of course, no doubt.”
Just four days ago, the Swiss lost a round-robin match at the Nitto ATP Finals in straight sets for the first time, so he knows that he has to take it one step at a time. That is part of what makes this tournament so special; every match poses a major challenge.
“I think regardless of the numbers, this is a massive tournament for the players. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I've loved being part of the Tennis Masters Cup, today [the Nitto ATP] Finals,” Federer said. “I've always tried to pace myself in a way… that I would have something left in the tank, that I would peak at this event.”
The second seed took a day off of practice after losing to Kei Nishikori on Sunday. And that strategy has not failed him since.
“Look, I'm a big believer in vacation. I'm a big believer in taking time off sometimes. When I go to work, I go hard, I go the right way, I go professional about it with my team,” Federer said. “I didn't think of taking a day off, to be honest, after the Nishikori match. I thought, ‘What are we going to do? Where are we going to train?’”
But Federer’s team suggested taking a day off, and the Swiss heeded their advice. He did not practice on Wednesday after beating Dominic Thiem on Tuesday.
“It's one of the first times I've done it like that,” Federer said. “I'm happy it's paying off so far. But I’ve got to be very, very focused the moment I step on court for the practice, the warmup. I think that's key, as well.”