Roger Federer may have recently turned 31, but age, it seems, is just another number for the indefatigable champion. The Swiss maestro scored an emphatic straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic at the Western & Southern Open to consolidate his hold on the No.1 ranking ahead of the US Open. Federer started off in brutally dominant fashion to hand the Serbian an ignominious bagel in just 20 minutes. The shock of that severe pasting seemed to have woken up Djokovic, who went on to offer stiff resistance in the second set but it wasn’t enough to prevent Federer from winning his 21st master series title 6-0 7-6 to set the tone for an intriguing three way battle for the final major of the year.
It is possible that the Serbian was strained from the exertions of the past fortnight, during which he won the Rogers Cup in Toronto. A double fault in the very first game offered two break points to the Swiss and an error from the Serbian on the second, gave the early initiative to Federer. Djokovic compounded his problems when he sandwiched a crosscourt forehand error between two double faults to slip back to 0-3.
Federer, on the other hand, was a study in contrast. He established a stranglehold on the set by holding serve to love in the fourth game – two service winners were followed quickly by a couple of aces to consolidate the double break. The bagel started to bake when Djokovic stuffed a double fault in between errors off either flank to be broken a third time. A service winner gave Federer two set points, before he clinched the deal on the second point with a crisply struck forehand down the line winner.
Novak finally made his presence felt in the first game of the second set, thanks mainly to a couple of forehand errors by Federer. The Swiss had only lost 10 points in an almost perfect first set, but Djokovic managed to pull his game out of the freezer and begin to assert himself in the second set. After al,l the last time a finalist was dealt a bagel in Cincinnati was in 1993, when Michael Chang was done in by Stefan Edberg. Incredibly, Chang went on to win that match to clinch the title.
If Djokovic harboured any Chang like dreams, Federer wanted no part in it. Even with Djokovic playing with a sense of urgency to create an opening, the Swiss held firm to stay level with the Serbian through the intensely competitive second set. With Federer not even offering a single break point in the match, Djokovic was finding it difficult to get a sniff. Neither man was ready to yield an inch even as the second set extended itself into a tie-breaker.
A forehand volley winner gave Federer the mini-break on the very first point of the breaker. But a 3-0 lead evaporated as Federer sailed a forehand long just before the players changed ends. The world No.1 regained the mini-break to draw level at 4-4 when Djokovic muffed a forehand crosscourt stroke. The first match point for Federer dissolved into the breaker when a forehand error allowed Djokovic to draw level at 6-6.
Djokovic even had a set point at 7-6, but three back to back winners off Federer’s murderous forehand ensured that the Swiss captured his fifth career title at Cincinnati. Unfortunately for the Serbian, this was his fourth final in the tournament without ever winning the title. Federer also emulated the feat of Rafael Nadal, who he tied on 21 master series titles. Federer’s victory consolidates his hold on the number one position and brings him into focus ahead of the US Open starting on the 27th August.