Roger Federer, who turned 34 two weeks ago, made the most eloquent statement of intent in advance of the US Open by crushing the world No1 Novak Djokovic in an hour and half on Sunday to win a record seventh Cincinnati Masters title here.
When Djokovic shoved long a final, tired backhand to give Federer an emphatic 7-6, 6-3 victory, he looked crestfallen and vulnerable, although later he was adamant that a stomach strain that flared in the semi-finals against Alexandr Dolgopolov and the elbow problem that has inhibited him since he lost to Andy Murray in Montreal last weekend had played no part in what was a sub-par performance.
Federer, meanwhile, was effervescent. His serve clicked pleasingly and he won with the sort of aggressive return game that has occasionally surprised opponents here this week. He steadily wore down Djokovic after a tight start, and is now at the centre of discussions about the US Open, perhaps still just behind Djokovic, and alongside Murray. He leapfrogs the Scot to No2 in the world in Monday’s rankings, which means he will not play the Serb until the final at Flushing Meadows.
“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 win that went some way towards easing the disappointment of losing to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final for the second year in a row.
This was his first tournament since then and Djokovic sensed his opponent’s vigour as he struggled to contain Federer’s ad-hoc battle plan.
“He’s more aggressive here than in any other tournament because the surface and conditions allow him to play very fast,” Djokovic said of Federer’s new-found daring in barrelling into the service box to take on any weak second serve. “He likes this rhythm. I don’t too much. I knew coming into the match he was going to be aggressive. I did well until the tie-break in the first set; after that, he was just the better player.”
Federer is delighted with his new attacking game but said he would have to use it with discretion, especially in heavier conditions at Flushing Meadows where he has won five times and hopes to pass the record of Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors.
“I’m not going to play the way they like it,” he said. “I’ll always come out and make it an athletic match or make it uncomfortable in the sense that they don’t know what’s coming. You can’t always do it. Some surfaces allow you to do it better than others, but this week it worked out well.
“Let’s be honest, I didn’t do it on every single second serve, but I was very aggressive. I am happy to see that it’s also a way forward for me because, for quite a long time in my career, I was very content to chip it and be aggressive with the forehand. I’m doing different things now on the backhand.”
Djokovic who has yet to add Cincinnati to his resume after five attempts (he has won all of the other eight ATP Masters events), observed: “I guess I’ve got to wait for Roger to retire.”
As for the US Open, he said, “I’m still not very happy with my form and my game but I have a week to work on it. Conditions in New York suit me a little bit better.”
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