By Megan Fernandez
MASON, Ohio -The menâ€™s final at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati looked evenly matched on paper. World No. 1 Roger Federer would take on world No. 2 Novak Djokovic. The rivals had split their six championship-match meetings three apiece. Neither had lost serve in the tournament. Federer had played 62 matches on the year to Djokovicâ€™s 63, and each had two hard-court losses. But 20 minutes after Djokovic opened the match with an ace, Federer had put written comparisons through the shredder with a 6-0 thrashing.
The lopsided start was the first bagel recorded in a Federer-Djokovic match. The Serbian played erratically, tossing in four double-faults and missing routine rally shots, and his footwork was lackluster.Â Federer, razor-sharp, took advantage with soft volleys that the normally quick Djokovic struggled to reach, much less return. Federer finished the match 17 for 20 onÂ points at the net.
Djokovic perked up and tightened the screws in the second set, cutting down on errors and winning more baseline exchanges. Meanwhile, Federerâ€™s first served dropped off, from 73 percent in the first set to 53 in the second. Serving at 5-5, Djokovic unleashed his best shots of the match, a pair of running, lashing forehand crosscourt winners reminiscent of his 2011 form. But in the tiebreak, he made a tactical error by lobbing Federer, even though the Serb had opted for passing shots on his opponentâ€™s most recent trips to the net. The Swiss got the point for a mini-break.
The tiebreak provided the drama fans had hoped they might see for the duration of the match. Djokovic evened the score at 3-3. Federer earned a match point at 6-5. Then Djokovic held a set point at 7-6. Federer kept charging, using a forehand winner from midcourt to reach his second set point, and sealed the victory with the same shot on the next point.
Federer stands alone as the winner of five titles at the Western & Southern Open, a tournament with special meaning to him. â€œIf I remember correctly, this was the first win I had after I had twins, right?â€ he said, referring to his 2009 victory, also over Djokovic. Perhaps later heâ€™ll also recall this title as the first after turning 31. He now has 76 ATP World tour titles, including 21 Masters 1000 shields, tied for most with Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic, last weekâ€™s winner in Toronto, fell to 0-4 in finals at the Western & Southern Open, all straight-set losses. Last year he retired from the championship trailing a set and 3-0 to Andy Murray, sparking speculation that his dominant play leading up to Cincinnati had worn him out. But Djokovic had played 60 matches going into the W&S final last year, and this year he had 63 under his belt. Federer, showing no signs of wear and tear, had played 62 matches in 2012.
â€œI have made more than I expected after Olympic Games,â€ Djokovic said. â€œI lost only one match in two weeks on two 1000 events, which is great success. So Iâ€™m actually feeling good about myself at the moment.â€
Federer has an unusual hope for the future: that more lower-ranked players will challenge the elite the way Lukas Rosol did against Nadal at Wimbledon two months ago. â€œI do hope more guys ranked where Rosol is or even better ranked do believe more in beating the top guys on the big stage,â€ he said. â€œIt was just refreshing to see that it was possible for a guy like Rosol to come through.â€
Refreshing, maybe. But far more common that a champion like Federer does.