LONDON - Roger Federer weathered a barrage of big hitting by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France to begin his title defence with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 win Sunday in the opening match of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Federer came into the tournament on a 12-match winning streak following titles in Basel and Paris, where he beat Tsonga in straight sets in the final a week ago.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion looked set for another easy win when he took the first set in 21 minutes, but Tsonga found his feet and broke early in the second set before taking the match into a decider.
A closely fought third set ended when the pressure seemed to get to Tsonga. Trailing 5-4, he was broken at 15 and Federer chalked up his third straight win over Tsonga since back-to-back losses at Wimbledon and Montreal.
"Today I had flashes of that match," Federer said of his five-set loss to Tsonga in the Wimbledon quarter-finals. "I didn't have much of a chance for a while on his serve. You just try your best."
Earlier, Toronto's Daniel Nestor and partner Max Mirnyi of Belarus overcame India's Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan's Asian-Ul-Haq Qureshi in a 7-6 (2), 4-6, 11-9 (match tiebreak) victory to begin group play in the doubles tournament.
Rafael Nadal was up against Mardy Fish in the second match in Group B later Sunday. Group A begins Monday with Andy Murray facing David Ferrer, and Novak Djokovic against Tomas Berdych.
Nadal, unusually, was courtside to see the end of the Federer-Tsonga match, joining soccer stars Thierry Henry and Andrey Arshavin in the crowd to watch the opening match of the season-ending tournament for the year's top eight players.
Instead of supporting fellow Frenchman Tsonga, former Arsenal striker Henry sat alongside Federer's wife Mirka.
"We're good friends," Federer said. "I think he's just happy to come and see me play once in a while. It was nice to catch up with him again."
Federer has now won at least 60 matches for nine straight years, and extended his career record over Tsonga to 7-3.
"It's not always in your control when you play Jo," Federer said. "That's the beauty of it. I kind of enjoy that to some degree. But I think also partially because it was a first-round match, I think that's maybe why we saw some ups and downs from both players."
Federer is making his 10th straight appearance, while Tsonga is playing the event for only the second time in his career, and the first time in London.
The gap in experience showed at the start as Tsonga's first serve deserted him in the fourth game, and the Frenchman overhit back-to-back forehands to go 3-1 down.
A tentative half-volley into the bottom of the net by Tsonga gave Federer a second break and the set.
Tsonga began hitting much more freely in the second set and his confidence grew. The 26-year-old drew a huge cheer from the 17,000-strong crowd when he broke for the first time in the third game when Federer sent a forehand wide.
With Federer mistiming his shots much more frequently, Tsonga seized his chance. He broke for a second time to lead 5-2 and then forced another error from Federer to take the set.
"I just tried to put the ball in the court," Tsonga said of the turnaround. "In the first set, I didn't put one ball in the court. I think he was a bit surprised because I played so bad in the first set, then I played correctly."
Federer went into the third set knowing he had never won a match against Tsonga in a deciding set, and his opponent wasn't showing any sign of wilting.
But after a run of three games with only one point against the serve, Tsonga blinked first. His third double fault of the match put him 0-30 down before Federer swept a curving forehand onto the sideline to bring up three match points.
Tsonga delivered a service winner to save the first but on the second, Federer lured his opponent into the net before finishing the match with a pinpoint backhand pass.