Four-time champion Roger Federer put himself into contention for a semifinal berth after beating alternate Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 7-6(4), 6-4 at Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai on Wednesday. Stepanek replaced World No. 6 Andy Roddick, who withdrew from the circuit finale with an ankle injury prior to the Red Group match.
Swiss superstar Federer, who learned of his new opponent after his pre-match warm-up, started his second group match by breaking Stepanek's serve in the first game. But it wasn't long before the Czech World No. 27 found his rhythm - having borrowed Novak Djokovic's racquet - on his first Tennis Masters Cup appearance and made Federer a nervous man. Both players committed unforced errors in the tie-break, but Federer sealed the opening set with a delicate drop shot.
Federer broke the Stepanek serve for a 5-3 lead in the second set, but then failed to win a point as he served for the match in the next game. The World No. 2 regained his composure and as Stepanek began to look a little weary, Federer clinched his 66th win of the season (66-14). Federer hit six aces and won 65 per cent of service points for victory in one hour and 42 minutes.
The 27-year-old Federer, who is making his seventh consecutive appearance at this event, has a 27-4 career record. He has reached the final for the last five years and has lifted the trophy in 2003 (d. Agassi), 2004 (d. Hewitt), 2006 (d. Blake) and 2007 (d. Ferrer). This year Federer has won four titles, including a 13th career Grand Slam trophy at the US Open (d. Murray).
Federer must now beat Murray in order to stand a chance of qualifying. "I'm looking forward to the match," the Swiss said. "[It] should be interesting. He’s a wonderful player. He's had a great end to the season. He's definitely the guy probably most in form.
"I hope with a day of recovery, I'll make a miracle happen here and get through into the semis."
Stepanek, who was on holiday in Thailand before arriving in Shanghai, said: "I had [a] racquet from Novak Djokovic, and I [got] socks from Andy [Murray]. But he's using the same ones as I do, so I asked him if I could borrow one."
The 29 year old dropped to 33-22 on the season, highlighted by one runner-up finish at San Jose (l. to Roddick).