November 19, 2006: The day Roger Federer dismissed a shell-shocked James Blake at the Masters Cup

On this day in tennis history, Roger Federer capped off one of his best seasons ever with a straight-set dismantling over James Blake in the Masters Cup

Federer OTD 11_19 Federer OTD 11_19

What happened on that day?

On this day, November 19, 2006, Roger Federer put the cherry on top of an incredible season, one in which he dominated the game like no one before, by defeating James Blake in the final of the ATP Masters Cup. In the final match of the year, the Swiss Maestro delivered a masterclass and left no chance to his opponent, annihilating Blake 6-0, 6-3, 6-4. After this victory, Federer had now accumulated 12 titles in a single season, including all the Grand Slams except for Roland-Garros (where he finished runner-up) and four Masters 1000 events, losing only five matches in the process.

The players: Roger Federer and James Blake

  • Roger Federer: The Swiss Maestro, nine-time Grand Slam champion

Roger Federer was born in 1981. After he finished 1998 as world No 1 in juniors, the Swiss performed well in his first professional matches – in his first five main tour appearances in 1998 and 1999, he reached the quarter-finals three times, in Toulouse, Marseille and Rotterdam. His aesthetic and effective game amazed the tennis world and soon, he was proclaimed as a potential world No 1.

The Swiss was emotional to a fault during his first years on the tour, but eventually mastered his nerves in 2003, when he claimed his first major title at Wimbledon (defeating Mark Philippoussis in the final, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6). A few months later, after triumphing at the Australian Open (defeating Marat Safin in the final, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3), he became world No 1 on February 2, 2004, and he had held that spot without a break since.

Since 2003, Federer had won nine Grand Slams: the Australian Open (2004, 2006), Wimbledon (2004, 2005, 2006) and the US Open (2004, 2005, 2006). At that time, his records also included 24 ATP titles, including 11 Masters 1000 tournaments. Federer had already won the Masters Cup in 2003 and 2004. 

In 2006, his best year so far, he had already claimed 11 titles that included three Grand Slams, and four Masters Series. He had only suffered five losses, four of these against his only serious rival at the time, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was the main reason Federer hadn’t won the French Open yet:  he lost against him in the semi-final in 2005 (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3) and in the final in 2006 (1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6).

  • James Blake: From Harvard student to world No 4
James Blake, Masters 2006
James Blake, Masters 2006 – © Fotosports / Panoramic

James Blake was born in 1979. After playing two years at Harvard University, he decided to turn pro in 1999, and in September 2001, he entered the top 100. Blake played a very aggressive game powered by his flat groundstrokes.  In 2002, after reaching his first professional final in Memphis (lost to Andy Roddick, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5) and in Newport (lost to Taylor Dent, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4), Blake claimed his first ATP title in Washington D.C., where he edged Paradorn Srichapan in the final (1-6, 7-6, 6-4).

In 2003, Blake established himself as a solid top 30 player, but he went through a tough year in 2004, fracturing a vertebra in Rome, before facing the death of his father in July and developing shingles, which temporarily paralyzed half his face and blurred his vision. As a consequence, his ranking dropped as low as world No 210 in April 2005. A few months later, entering the US Open draw thanks to a wild card, James Blake reached the quarter-finals, where he was defeated by Andre Agassi after an epic five-set battle (3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6).

2006 was the vets of his career so far. During the summer, he obtained his best-ever ranking of world No 5 and then qualified for the Masters Cup after claiming five titles and reaching the US Open quarter-finals again (lost to Roger Federer, 7-6, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4).

The place: Shanghai, China

Founded in 1970, the year-end ATP Masters Cup was the final showdown between the eight best players in the world. Held in a different location every year at the start, in settled at the Madison Square Garden in New York from 1977 until 1989. Since then, the tournament had moved several times: Frankfurt (1990-1995), Hanover (1996-1999), Lisbon (2000), Sydney (2001), Shanghai (2002), Houston (2003-2004), then back to Shanghai in 2005. As only the eight top players of the year qualify for the event, the list of its former champions reads like a who’s who in men’s tennis.

The facts: Federer wins the first seven games of the final

The two players facing each other in the final of the Masters Cup both had their career-best seasons in 2006. Roger Federer had been almost unchallenged, apart from the clay court season, where his nemesis Nadal made his life miserable by defeating the Swiss four times. Undefeated in the round-robin stage, Federer treated himself with a satisfying win over Nadal (6-4, 7-5) in the semi-finals.  James Blake’s achievements were hard to compare with Federer’s, entering the top 10 and qualifying for the Masters Cup for the first time in his career. In his first match at the season finale, the American beat Nadal in the round-robin (6-4, 7-6), and went on to eliminate the defending champion, world No 7 David Nalbandian (6-4, 6-1) in the semis.

In five previous encounters with the undisputed world No 1, only once had the American managed to win a set — back in the quarter-finals of the last US Open, where Federer had prevailed (7-6, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4). The Swiss Maestro had a real hold on his opponent, and he used it perfectly, flying out of the gates and dashing Blake’s hopes from the onset. Federer set the standards by taking the first seven games, leaving the American shell-shocked. In the end, it took Federer less than two hours to dismiss Blake, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4. The world No 8 looked lost on the court, as if he couldn’t believe what was happening to him.

“Today, you know, there’s nothing I could have done,” said the runner-up, quoted by The New York Times. “He played too good. I’ve probably run out of adjectives to describe him on the court, to talk about his excellence. He’s just unbelievable. Steps it up even more in finals.”

The world No 1 was almost in disbelief with how well he played when describing his his performance. “I’ve run out of words myself. I had to laugh at times today at how well I was playing. At this point in my career, I’m so happy with my game.”

What’s next? Federer goes on to win 20 Grand Slams

Federer would dominate the game in 2007 as well, claiming three out of four Grand Slam tournaments again. From 2008, he was challenged by Nadal, and later by Novak Djokovic, but, 14 years later, in 2020, Roger Federer would hold an amazing 103 titles on the tour, including 20 Grand Slams, six Masters Cups and 28 Masters 1000.

Blake would eventually beat Federer, though only once in 11 encounters. In the quarter-finals of the Olympic event in Beijing in 2008, the American would prevail (6-4, 7-6). The American would claim his last title in 2007, in New Haven, and, after a last Grand Slam quarter-final reached at the 2008 Australian Open, he would slowly decline. He would exit the top 10 in August 2008, and the top 50 in 2010. Although he would never officially announce his retirement, Blake would stop competing on the tour in 2013.

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