With Cincinnati Masters title, Novak Djokovic proves he is very much back
What can one expect of Novak Djokovic as an opponent? – Bold passing shots, high quality defence, carefully aligned baseline-deep service returns, consistently coming at you with increasing regularity. Add to this match routine, Djokovic’s own serve -- his simple, yet redesigned service motion after the elbow surgery, to compete with the best. Is that all what Novak does to you?
On Sunday, all these ‘Novak-ingredients’ were not to be seen, at least predominantly. But still, he gave Roger Federer a 6-4, 6-4 drubbing at this year’s Cincinnati Open final, winning his Career Golden Masters 1000, and creating history. But how did he manage to do it? Most of us know how very easy it is to ignore Roger Federer’s presence, with age catching up, yet how very difficult it is to win matches against him.
It was the pair's fourth meeting at the same tournament. Notably, Djokovic had not taken a set off Federer prior to this contest. The odds were against him, for Federer was a seven-time champion here.
But the Serb had a point to prove, especially considering the fact that he overcame the ‘Nadal-hurdle’ in Wimbledon earlier this year, and went on to eventually win the trophy, thereby adding one more title to his Grand Slam tally. This time, a Career Golden Masters 1000 was on the cards.
But the question remained: Had Novak really announced his comeback? A win against his familiar foe, Rafael Nadal was no mean achievement. But the tennis world was wondering if he had the will to beat champion players on a more regular basis.
Roger Federer, on the other hand, had arrived on the heels of a satisfying quarter-final outing against his fellow countryman, Stan Wawrinka -- an outing highlighted by an aggressive approach and an all-out attack. Not only was he able to beat his compatriot but also make a clear statement, apparently experimenting with a high-risk game plan. Luckily, it came off against one of the many comeback stars this season, but certainly not against the steely Serb.
In fact, Federer let himself down at crucial moments in this match. With as many as 39 unforced errors, not winners, under his belt, the Basel native had very little to do on the court. However, it was evident that he was given carte blanche by the tennis gods! He was going for his shots. Unfortunately, Djokovic did not look like failing to capitalize on Federer’s blemishes.
Often, Nadal had done it to Federer, quite regularly enough, exposing Federer's baseline blues. For all that, of late, after reinventing his backhand with a slightly bigger racquet head, Federer has managed to plug that leak to a great extent. But when he faced Novak Djokovic in the final showdown at the Cincinnati ATP Masters 1000 event, he appeared surely weak; he was pressing the panic button more than was actually required.
The seventh game of the first set was one good example of how Djokovic had rushed him for time when Federer sent a forehand approach shot wide. Federer lost that crucial game and moments later, Djokovic pocketed the first set with ease.
Just when the spectators thought that Federer would regroup and fight it out in the second set as he broke the Djokovic serve to go 2-0 up, he played a lose game, only to be broken for a second time in the match. Going back to his chair, the Swiss master looked unperturbed externally, but fuming with himself within! Both players traded breaks in the second set. Broken again for a second time was Federer in the same set, allowing his opponent to engineer a winning breakaway and put the pressure back on him.
Match stats seldom reveal the true sad story to a Federer fan. Except for a few rare fist pumps, Federer was fired up for the wrong reasons. On the other side of the net was a run-and-retrieve machine ready to receive Federer's otherwise strong and accurate first serves. The whole world knows that Federer-Djokovic rivalry has a good bit of history to it.
Earlier, if at all Federer fans had anything to celebrate, it was at the start of the match, when one of the commentators mentioned that Federer had a record 100th straight service hold at Cincinnati. Anyway, Djokovic’s superior performance discombobulated Federer this year, at the Western and Southern Open.
Djokovic must have been in some hibernation. But on Sunday, he was back. With rubber hands and rubber legs, Djokovic played. Djokovic won. Federer could not even compete. Probably Federer took the court just to witness the historic moment in men’s tennis! With the US Open just round the corner, Federer well and truly needs a few more of his Swiss-German ‘Chum jetze’, to keep himself in the hunt for yet another title.