Federer delivers Nadal's Waterloo in London after all-conquering season

World number one beaten in three sets at season-ending finale

Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal's titanic rivalry was on display again in London yesterday as the two top players in the world contested the ATP World Tour Finals. The last time the Swiss and the Spaniard locked horns in the English capital was at the 2008 Wimbledon final, considered among the best tennis matches ever played. Nadal was the victor then, edging out the perennial champion 9-7 in the final set, a win that began the process of wresting the top spot from Federer in earnest.

Nadal deposed Federer on August 18, 2008 and incredibly only three matches have been disputed between them since then: the final of the Australian Open in 2009, in which Nadal again prevailed in five sets, and two at the Madrid Masters, where honors have been shared: Federer beat Nadal in the 2009 final but the Spaniard redressed the balance in this year's competition.

Federer won 100 percent of points on his first serve in the opening set

A packed O2 Arena was therefore electric with anticipation as one of the sport's great rivalries was renewed on a surface that favored the Swiss maestro: Nadal's distaste for zippy indoor hard courts is well documented, and it was Federer who started the strongest, pulling Nadal left and right as he displayed his obtuse angles and served immaculately, winning 100 percent of his first service points.

Nadal, who has not played a tournament since Shanghai in October, was taken to the wire in a three-set marathon against Andy Murray on Saturday, requiring two tie-breakers and his trademark tenacity to beat the Scot 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. The third set alone lasted 81 minutes, whereas Federer required just 79 to blast Novak Djokovic from the court in the second semifinal.

Federer at least swung his racket in anger in Paris, the last Masters before London, but was beaten in a tense semifinal by Gaël Monfils. The artistry Federer displayed against the Serbian world number three on Saturday was showcased again as he effortlessly took the first set 6-3 in 32 minutes, having broken Nadal on the sole opportunity with which he was presented at 4-3. If there is one reason Nadal held a 14-7 record against the Swiss before the match, though, it is that not one point is ever given up for lost by the Spaniard.

With Nadal leading 2-1 on serve in the second, the number one began to impose his heavy hitting on Federer, pounding the corners of the court and waiting for his chance to strike the knock-out blow. Breaking in the fourth game, the momentum accrued by the Spaniard allowed him to race to a 4-1 lead and he duly took the second set by the same margin.

In the final set Federer's demolition of Djokovic began to tell as he eased into a gear that Nadal could not counter after Saturday's exertion. The Swiss broke Nadal twice in so emphatic a 6-1 set that the Spaniard did not even bother to challenge the point that sealed the match, a skewed Federer forehand that may or may not have shaved the line.

There is little doubt that he will not be so compliant in 2011, when the greatest rivalry in contemporary sport will resume afresh to decide who will be the king of the court at next year's Finals. For now, Federer is the great squire of London.

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