Cincinnati 2015: Federer seeks seventh heaven in fifth straight Djokovic final
Former World No1 Roger Ferderer is looking to win Cincinnati after beating second seed Andy Murray in semi-final
Perhaps it was no surprise that three of the most prolific winners in Masters tennis and the world’s top three players, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer, made it all the way to the final four of the biggest test before the biggest Major of the year, the US Open.
The fourth man, though, was a surprise, the charismatic talent of the unconventional Alexandr Dolgopolov. He came through qualifying, picked up the No4 seed’s spot courtesy of the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori, and took three fine scalps to earn a tilt against Djokovic: Bernard Tomic, Jerzy Janowicz and No6 seed Tomas Berdych.
But Djokovic was the man of the year, indeed of the last 18 months, with only four match-losses in 2015, and a staggering six titles from nine consecutive finals. If he made his 10th final in Cincinnati, he could also seal one unique record: the first man ever to win all nine Masters trophies.
There was just as much at stake in the other semi, a 25th meeting between Murray and Federer, the two men who had denied Djokovic in all four of his previous Cincinnati finals.
Defending champion Federer was aiming to win this title for a record seventh time, Murray was aiming to become one of a small band of players to win the Canadian and Cincinnati titles back-to-back. But rather more was of immediate import.
Murray overtook Federer to No2 in the rankings with his Montreal win, but Federer could reclaim it if he beat Murray and went on to win the title. And that ranking would be used for next week’s US Open, and so determine who was guaranteed to avoid Djokovic until the final.
The Federer-Murray encounter would be their fourth in Cincinnati, but they arrived in rather different styles. Federer had not only come through without dropping a set but without dropping serve. Murray, however, had been broken 11 times and come back from a set down in two matches, and that added up to more than twice the time on court than Federer this week.
Add into the mix that Murray had played and won more matches this year than any other man and this could end up a physical trial of strength as the Briton attempted to halt a four-match losing run to the Swiss.
But first, it was Djokovic tilting for his fifth Ohio final, and he had his hands full against the hard-to-read Ukrainian.
Dolgopolov broke in the third game and quickly held for 3-1. But in the sixth, his first serve went missing, and he double faulted to concede a break back, 3-3. However, with Djokovic not at the top of his game, Dolgopolov took advantage: a massive backhand winner down the line and an off forehand drop winner both caught Djokovic rooted, and Dolgopolov broke back. He went on to serve out the set in style, 6-4.
The rather lack-lustre Djokovic even faced two break points in the opening game of the second set, but so unpredictable is Dolgopolov that a couple of exuberant errors threw away the chance.
The top seed would no doubt have drawn strength from their last match in Miami, where Dolgopolov also took the opening set, but Djokovic had gone on to win and eventually take the title, one of four Masters crowns this year.
Then came another twist: Djokovic called the trainer for an abdominal strain. But with painkillers in his system, he took to court again, fought through an eight-minute serve and another break-point to hold at 4-3. He began to move better, while Dolgopolov sprayed enough errors for Djokovic to break. The Serb had now only to serve out the set, but Dolgopolov had other ideas, producing some fireworks to draw a double fault: It was all square, and would require a tie-break.
Again Dolgopolov went into overdrive, first a cross-court forehand winner, then a sensational forehand winner from outside the court. He led 3-0, but Djokovic dug in, levelled, and then stormed to 7-5 and the set.
The rest of the match had echoes of Miami. After treatment for blisters on both feet, the momentum switch to Djokovic was so strong that Dolgopolov found himself facing break points time and again. He saved the first but Djokovic smelled blood, and broke twice to take victory, 6-2 after two hours and 20 minutes.
Right from first point, Federer showed his intention of playing the attacking tennis that had ripped into his previous three opponents. He went straight on the offensive in the first game to earn two break points, but after almost seven minutes, Murray held. After a quick love hold by Federer, though, Murray was up against it again, and this time buckled with an error.
Murray gradually adjusted to the pace and aggression of his opponent and his serve grew stronger. He even had Federer at 0-30 a couple of times, as they weaved some fine, complex rallies. But Federer held serve to take the set, 6-4.
Murray played still better in the second set, and the quality of the tennis rose game by game. The only break point of the set came to Federer in the seventh game, but three huge serves and Murray had held. As they entered the tie-break, they were locked at 34 points apiece in the set.
The game opened with an ace each, but by the time they changed ends, Federer led 4-2. Not for long, though, as Murray summoned up some brilliant shot-making from the baseline. They changed ends this time at 6-6, and Federer brought up match point with a breathtaking drop-lob-volley combo destined for a highlights reel. He served it out, 7-6(6), to set up his fifth final of the year against Djokovic.
The two men are locked at 20 wins apiece after Djokovic denied Federer in the Wimbledon final, and the Swiss was fully aware of what was at stake.
“The [No2] ranking is not that important, to be quite honest. My first goal [at the US Open] is to get to another final—not been in one since 2009.
“And Novak’s going for that ‘golden masters’ result tomorrow and I think that should be the news, not my ranking. I’ll hope to stop him! I’m going for my seventh here, which is also very exciting.”
But wouldn’t Federer also like to avenge the three straight final losses he has suffered at Djokovic’s hands this year? That has to be taken as read.