LONDON: For all the special effects which greeted the start of the ATP World Tour finals in the spectacular O2 Arena on Sunday it was the play of Roger Federer and Andy Murray that really dazzled the capacity crowd.
World number two Federer never requires gimmicks to leave his audience spellbound and that proved the case again as he began his bid for a record-equalling fifth title at the season-ender with a 6-1 6-4 defeat of Spaniard David Ferrer.
Earlier in front of a 17,500-capacity crowd, Murray dropped only one more game, crushing Sweden’s world number four Robin Soderling 6-2 6-4 with a virtuoso display that augurs well for the home favourite as he aims to end a mixed year on a high.
Murray entered the cavernous arena to strobe lighting and The Clash classic “London Calling” bellowing out from the sound system and he clearly enjoyed an atmosphere far-removed from the brooding hush of Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
“The atmosphere here is obviously different,” the 23-year-old Murray, whose next Group B match will be against Federer on Tuesday, told reporters.
“It’s sort of like a concert with music at the change of ends, the big screen showing replays of the points. It was so loud. I didn’t know what was going on at first.”
Murray was dressed in a jet black shirt with an eye-catching diamond pattern not unlike the design favoured by Ivan Lendl, who won the season ender five times.
The Scot, who would dearly love to win a tournament regarded by the players as not far short of a grand slam, produced some glittering tennis in his 80-minute victory — pocketing the $120,000 available for each round robin win in the process.
“It’s a huge tournament,” Murray, beaten by Federer in the Australian Open final at the start of the year, said. “I think all of the players want to play their best tennis here.
“It’s a big win, to beat someone ranked higher than me. The guy’s number four in the world and he’s a very good player.”
Four more performances of similar quality would give Murray a reasonable shot at the $1.6 million jackpot for any player to win the tournament with a maximum five victories, although Federer will provide a formidable obstacle.
Murray faced just one break point against the misfiring Soderling and even that threat was snuffed out with an ace midway through the second set.
Soderling, who will face Ferrer next, will have to improve dramatically if he is to match his run to the semi-finals here last year when he only scraped in to the draw because of Andy Roddick’s injury-enforced withdrawal.
“The good thing is I still have a chance. I have two really tough matches coming up,” he said.
Federer, making his ninth consecutive appearance at the tournament, has been in fine fettle since his shock quarter-final defeat by Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, looked imperious against Ferrer in the evening session and had a watching Diego Maradona nodding his approval.
The Swiss, who has won six titles down the river at Wimbledon, is a huge favourite with British crowds and he produced a commanding performance on Sunday in an arena usually reserved for the greats of the music industry.
Prowling the blue indoor court in a vivid red shirt, he waltzed into a 4-0 lead and looked set for an embarrassingly easy victory before Ferrer finally made him sweat.
Things even got a bit sticky for Federer in the second set when he fended off three break points while serving for the match but he closed it out to take his career record over Ferrer, who he beat to win his last season-ending title in Shanghai three years ago, to 11-0.
“Looking at the scoreline, it doesn’t reflect how tough it was,” Federer told reporters.
“Usually 6-1 6-4 kind of matches take an hour. Here, it took one hour 25. There were many close games, especially in the second set.
“I’m really happy the way I was able to get out of the first match. Starting off with a feisty top 10 player is never easy.”