Roger Federer in seventh heaven after beating Novak Djokovic in Dubai final

Roger Federer beats Novak Djokovic in straight sets to win the ATP Dubai Duty Free tennis tournament

roger federer
Roger Federer is champion in Dubai for a seventh time Photo: Marianne Bevis

It has become something of a ritual at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. By the time one of the most competitive draws on the ATP 500 circuit has unfolded to its final day, there are two oh-so-familiar names in the frame: Six-time and defending champion Roger Federer and four-time champion Novak Djokovic.

Only once since Federer’s first win here in 2003 has there been a final without either of them involved—and on only two occasions in that 12-year span has neither Federer nor Djokovic won.

So no surprise that the two had played one another in Dubai three times before. More surprising was that only once before had the two fought for the title on the final day, in 2011, a year in which Djokovic would not lose a match from Australia until Roland Garros, a remarkable unbroken run of seven titles.

But much to Dubai’s delight, and to the delight of tennis fans around the world, here they were again, the two top seeds, Djokovic and Federer, in another final showdown at last.

roger federer

Roger Federer in action in DubaiPhoto: Marianne Bevis

Even putting to one side the records that Federer and Djokovic have put together in Dubai, this is a rivalry that has grown into one of the most compelling, a rivalry that has already stretched through 36 matches and almost nine years, that has decided Masters titles and the World Tour Finals crown, and only last year determined the Wimbledon title and the No1 ranking.

In sheer numbers, their rivalry trails that between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal—by five—yet it has become, in many eyes, the finest of the match-ups among the “big four”, pitching Federer’s all-court fluency, attack and tactical guile against the super-fit, super-flexible body and intellect of one of the greatest defenders in the game.

Both are capable of probing, accurate serving and both boast flat baseline power, challenging sliced backhands, and an ability to turn defence into attack at the drop of a hat. Their tennis is akin to physical chess—and it can be magical.

That they were both at the top of their game, alternating wins in their last six matches dating back just over a year, made it all the more fascinating. Ranked No1 and 2 in the world by some distance, Djokovic had already won this year’s Australian title, and he concluded 2014 with three titles and a semi finish in his last four tournaments. Federer had lost only two best-of-three-set matches since Rome last May—in the final of the Toronto Masters and the quarter-finals of the Paris Masters. He was unbeaten at the World Tour Finals prior to pulling out of the final.

Naturally, against such a backdrop, their respect for one another was writ large ahead of this 37th meeting.

roger federer

Roger Federer celebrates his victoryPhoto: Marianne Bevis

Djokovic of Federer: “Of course when you play Roger, it’s always a great challenge. If you want to win you have to play your best tennis, especially against Roger in the finals in any event but here particularly… I look forward to it.”

And Federer of Djokovic: “[Novak] has really dominated again since the end of last year when Paris came around. Showed up when it mattered the most. That’s what you can expect from Novak.”

Well his was a prescient observation, for in this match, when it mattered most, Federer showed up.

Djokovic went on the attack from the first, attempting to intimidate Federer at the net. He bombarded the Swiss to force errors and then played an immaculate lob to bring up two break points in the third game. Federer survived and they stayed locked until the eighth game when Djokovic double faulted and then hit a forehand long to give Federer the crucial opening, the break, and leave him to serve out the set, 6-3, in 37 minutes.

The already vocal stadium needed little more excuse to double the volume. Each time a chant of ‘Novak, Novak’ went up, it was countered by a louder ‘Roger, Roger’. And that was only the opening set.

Every game, every point, and every break chance cranked up the tension and the noise—and that happened several times over in the second set, with Djokovic serving first and bringing Federer under pressure time and again.

At 4-4, Federer faced 15-40 and came up with four big serves to hold. At 5-5 he did precisely the same. It was clutch serving, backed up by bold net attacks, even after Djokovic slotted one of many passes down the line, and it saw Federer sail through the 9,000 aces barrier—one that only three other men have done since records began in 1991—as he twice held serve with another perfect delivery.

Now Federer was doing the intimidating, pulling Djokovic back from 40-0 at 5-5 with five straight points to take the break.

Even now, with the arena in uproar, it was not the end of the drama. Djokovic fought back, 0-30, deuce, deuce again, and then break-back point courtesy of Federer’s only double fault of the match.

But once again, Federer found the serves when it mattered—and one final ace, his 12th of the match—to grasp the set and match, 7-5, and his seventh Dubai trophy.

The tournament in the desert thus became the third that Federer has won seven times—the other two are played on his favourite grass, at Wimbledon and Halle. Perhaps more important, Federer scored his first win over Djokovic in a final since Cincinnati 2012. Important because they now head to Indian Wells, where Djokovic beat the Swiss last year to take the title.

roger federer

Roger Federer celebrates his victoryPhoto: Marianne Bevis

Federer talked about his performance in an understated tone: “I felt very good about the way I was playing, was very positive ball striking, and then I just needed to make sure that I mixed it up enough and served big when I had to and not double fault too many times, because I was trying to also hit bigger second serves and it all worked out very well tonight.”

But he also summed up what is so special about this rivalry and the tennis they produce against one another: “I think it’s really become a very nice rivalry. I think we play very nice against each other, and it seems people like the way we play, as well. I don’t think we have to adjust our games very much against each other, which is nice, as well. We can just play our game, and then the better man wins.

“It’s been nice seeing Novak’s improvements over all these years. He’s become such an unbelievable player, especially the last five, six years, and cleaned up his game so nicely and became the best mover in the game. It’s really a pleasure playing against him every single time.”

Ditto for the rest of us, Roger. It is always a pleasure to see these two champions—both fathers, both increasingly warm to and about one another—take on each other. All we can say is, roll on Indian Wells.

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