Novak Djokovic slid from outright favourite for the US Open to worryingly vulnerable contender in an hour and a half here on Sunday as Roger Federer crushed him in two sets to win a record seventh Cincinnati Masters only a week before the final slam of the season.
Federer, who turned 34 two weeks ago, played tennis to rekindle memories of his golden decade and he goes to New York with the solid belief that he can add to his 17 majors, five of which he has collected there, sharing the record with Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors.
Federer’s 7-6, 6-3 win was his 21st in 41 matches against Djokovic, edging him ahead in their long rivalry and denying the Serb a set of all nine ATP Masters titles. He was also pleased to avenge his second straight defeat by Djokovic in a Wimbledon final.
Djokovic’s insistence that the elbow problem that has hindered him since his loss to Andy Murray in the Rogers Cup final in Montreal last Sunday was inconsequential looks paper thin. He was not himself in this final, nor had he been for most of the week, except when beating Stan Wawrinka for the loss of only five games.
“Papa you need a hat,” one of Federer’s twin girls, Myla, said as the game’s most loved player, hot but elated, celebrated a memorable win.
“I think we really get the best out of each other,” Federer said. “I know it was tough for him backing up from Wimbledon and Montreal. I’ll try my best to come back here for many more years to come.”
Federer had four break points in the first half hour, but Djokovic saved each time as he tried to ignore the overwhelming home support for his opponent, who regards Mason as his Swiss haven in the midwest.
On a typically hot Ohio afternoon, a spectator collapsed in the stands as Djokovic moved to serve at 40-15 and 4-4. After the chair umpire Mohammed Lahyani ordered a brief stoppage, Djokovic served out and the pressure was on Federer to stay in the set. A double fault for 15-all betrayed rare Swiss nerves before he forced the tie-break, and there he out-hit and out-thought a strangely tentative Djokovic, taking the shootout for the loss of a single point.
Federer broke early and raced to 3-0 in the second, and panic spread through every ground stroke of the world No1. He stemmed the haemorrhaging with a solid hold in the fourth game, but this ship was listing badly and Federer was looking more piratical with each thrust and parry.
Djokovic held for 2-4 with a second-serve ace, and forced Federer to serve out for the win, which he did to love. “Roger played great today and deserved to win,” Djokovic said. “It was my fifth final. I guess I’ve got to wait for Roger to retire.”