Federer looks to rally in Paris and finish year with flourish
We have already seen half-a-dozen Frenchmen take the stage at the Palais Omnisports de Bercy this week, yet the biggest cheer was for an outsider who strode on to Centre Court for a brief practice on Monday evening.
Roger Federer's magnetism remains unaffected by the slippage in his results.
Admittedly, there is an autumnal feel about Federer this season. He is the grand old oak tree, buffeted by storm-force winds. Pieces of his game have fallen away, notably his ability to pounce on the short ball and deliver a zinger of a forehand.
Yet he remains an iconic draw, and for as long as Federer remains officially unconfirmed for next week's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, there will be disquiet among the organisers at the O2 Arena. They still remember how, last year, London's polyglot crowd cheered louder for him than they did for Andy Murray.
There is no logical reason for Federer – or anyone else – to worry. It is true that, mathematically, he needs to beat Kevin Anderson today in the Paris Masters to be assured of finishing among the nine leading singles players of the year.
Qualification is normally restricted to the top eight, but Murray's post-op spinal rehab programme has created an extra space.
In practice, though, Federer barely needs the extra points. Even if he happened to lose to Anderson, a big-serving South African, it would still take a freakish series of events – culminating in Milos Raonic claiming the biggest title of his career on Sunday – to bump him down to No 10 in this year's standings.
Federer, like a peace lily, is happier under a roof. He played his first indoor event of 2013 last week in his home town of Basel, and improved with every round, until he came mighty close to overcoming an in-form Juan Martin del Potro in the final.
Both men won 96 points, but Del Potro took just enough of the important ones to sneak through 7-6, 2-6, 6-4.
In a year where Murray, Nadal and Novak Djokovic have all won Grand Slams, it would be fitting if the final member of the 'Big Four' could round 2013 off with a flourish.
"I think No 1 is not his goal," Rafael Nadal said of Federer this week. "He has already been there. What really makes you happy is to go on court with the feeling you can win the tournament.
"That's probably the only thing that maybe worries him. But I am sure he will be back playing great tennis again." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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