By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Roger Federer swept through round-robin play at the ATP Finals undefeated for the 10th time as he returned to haunt Marin Cilic with a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 win at the 02 Arena on Thursday.
Six-times champion Federer had already booked his place in the semi-finals when he beat German trailblazer Alexander Zverev in Tuesday’s battle of the generations but any notion he would coast through his final group match proved wide of the mark.
Federer simply hates losing -- he has suffered only four defeats all year -- and was offering no olive branch to Cilic, who he reduced to tears in this year’s Wimbledon final.
It took him a long time to gain the upper hand on Thursday but once he did the Swiss finished with a flourish and looks the overwhelming favourite to claim yet another year-end title.
In his 14th semi-final from 15 appearances at the elite event for the world’s top eight players, the 36-year-old will take on either Dominic Thiem or David Goffin.
“I was a set and a break point down so happy I found a way out of it,” the world number two said.
”I thought try to relax a little bit. This was nice because I could play a bit more freely midway through the second set because I was through (to the semis) regardless.
“But I wanted to keep the momentum going. One last final weekend now, one last push, then vacation and start preparing for next year.”
Cilic, already eliminated after two three-set losses, was desperate to end his year on a high in the city where his Wimbledon dream died in July when blisters meant he was in no physical shape to stop Federer winning a 19th grand slam.
The world number five put up much sterner resistance this time, surviving four break points in the opening set before out-playing Federer at the end of the tiebreak.
The Swiss could have been excused for stepping off the gas and was flirting with defeat at 4-4 in the second set when Cilic was sensing a break of serve.
But he skipped out of danger and Cilic tightened up at 4-5 leaving Federer to pounce. The result was never in doubt after that.
Two more wins would give Federer eight titles in a year for the first time since 2007 -- and leave him agonisingly close to the points haul of end-of-year world number one Rafael Nadal.
Not that he has any regrets.
“I‘m so happy that I was able to reach this level of play and still being able to play also at the end of the year,” Federer, who also won the Australian Open, said.
“It wasn’t just like one tournament at the beginning, then nothing after that. It was just great throughout.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)