Roger Federer continued his love affair with America’s Mid-West, dismantling Novak Djokovic in a ruthless hour and a half for a record seventh title at the Western and Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati, avenging his Wimbledon loss six weeks ago and denying the world No.1 a ‘Golden Masters’.
Coming into the final without having dropped a set, Federer picked up from where he left off against Murray less than 24 hours earlier, having much the better of a first set that Djokovic managed to send to a tiebreak. However, the Serb simply failed to match Federer’s fire in the breaker, one stunning backhand winner down the line standing out in particular as Federer ran away with the set conceding just a single point in the tiebreak.
The history books were against Djokovic right from the outset, with Federer having triumphed every single time he had made the final in Cincinnati (and there were half a dozen of them). Djokovic, meanwhile, was yet to emerge with a set from four previous finals in Ohio.
The Serb, however, has scaled mountains far more daunting than cherry-picked statistics over the last few years, and while he recognised the arduousness of what needed to be done, he wasn’t going to be beaten by numbers alone. He has, after all, mastered Federer on the lawns of the All England Club two years in a row, and went in aware that he was the world’s best player precisely because he had beaten people like Federer and Murray on the biggest occasions of late.
The last time he had lost a Masters 1000 final to the Swiss was as far back as 2012 – at this very tournament. Since then, he had had the better of the 34-year-old in seven successive Masters 1000 or Grand Slam finals, and playing the best tennis of his career, it would take a Herculean effort from Roger to deny Novak the one Masters he is yet to win.
That is exactly what Federer brought to the court on Sunday, his sizzling groundstrokes rivalled only by the blazing Ohio sunshine, energising the world No.2 as Djokovic appeared to wilt. The 17-time Slam winner took advantage of a tired, loose game at the start of the second set from Djokovic, capitalising on two double-faults to clinch a service break that he wouldn’t relinquish till the end. Parts of the match played like a highlights reel from the racket of the ageless Federer, whose seemingly infinite appetite for success has seen all-court, traditionally attacking tennis remain a refreshing presence in today’s increasingly physical baseline game. The final scoreline, 7-6(1) 6-3, was, if anything, slightly flattering to Djokovic, with Federer for large parts of the second set threatening to secure a double break to close out the match much more comprehensively.
It is Roger Federer’s 87th ATP title and his 24th at Masters 1000 level. He edged ahead of Djokovic in the pair’s head-to-head clashes 21-20, and guaranteed he would go into the US Open ranked ahead of Andy Murray at world No.2, ensuring that the pair’s paths cannot cross for a 42nd meeting until the final in New York – arguably as much a blessing for Djokovic as it is for Federer.
While Djokovic is on course for possibly the best season of his career, the fact that he was thwarted in the two events he will have placed at the top of his bucket list for 2015 is likely to jar. Victory at the French Open would have secured him a career Slam, while a win here in Cincinnati would see him become the first man in history to win all nine elite Masters 1000 events. Having already triumphed at the year-end ATP World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup in previous years, it would have meant Djokovic had won every significant tournament worth winning in tennis. But brilliant performances from Stanislas Wawrinka in Paris and Federer in Cincinnati made sure Djokovic has to wait at least another year to realise those goals.
Time is ticking, but the top-ranked men’s player in world tennis is unlikely to be observing it go by on a Swiss watch after what’s happened this year.