LONDON — When 31-year-old Rafael Nadal had it pointed out to him two weeks ago that he was the oldest year-end No. 1, he didn’t look best pleased.
It’s hard to imagine Roger Federer, at 36 the oldest end-of-season world No. 2, having a similar reaction, particularly after the 6-4, 7-6 (4) lesson he gave to Jack Sock in his opening ATP Finals match in London on Sunday.
The American started slowly against one of the greats of the game and, almost inevitably, he was punished. Federer, by contrast, started with real purpose and seldom looked back.
The Swiss broke Sock, 25, in the first game and then worked just hard enough to ensure the advantage stayed with him through the first set. He didn’t quite get the better of his opponent’s serve again until the second-set tiebreaker, but that was enough to win the match.
Sock had promised to “swing big” after sneaking into the year-end showpiece in the last Masters event of the year, in Paris, and he was certainly full of energy, running around forehands and chasing apparently lost causes.
He found time to smile, too, after virtually asking Federer to hit a body shot when he was stranded at the net in the first set, and hitting a tweener volley in the second set that deserved to win a point but didn’t.
Sock’s nothing-to-lose approach produced an engaging contest, but Federer’s clinical play was too much for him.
Defeat in the first match at the round-robin stage need not be decisive for Sock, but the tournament debutant will have to do well in tough-looking matches against Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic; it is hard to imagine the Boris Becker group’s advancing pair being anything other than Federer plus one.
Federer has qualified for the year-end showpiece a record 15 times, won it six times, and missed the Paris Masters to ensure he would be fully fit to produce his best here.
It wasn’t vintage Federer against Sock — he failed to convert five of his six break points — but there was enough in an opening match following a break from competition to suggest he will again be the force he usually is this event.