The final ATP match of the season more than lived up to hype. In a battle of the two best players in the world, Novak Djokovic outslugged Roger Federer 7-6(8-6), 7-5 to collect his second career ATP Finals title.
“It’s very satisfying for my team and myself to conclude this fantastic season with a World Tour Finals win,” said Djokovic after the 2-hour, 15-minute affair. “I never got to the finals of this tournament in London. The furthest I got is semifinals a couple years ago where I lost straight sets to Roger. I wasn’t really feeling this surface very well in past couple of years. But this year has been different. I got motivated, got a little bit more physically fresh. I wanted really to fight and I really wanted to get as far as I can in this tournament. Winning all the matches I played makes it even more special.”
Just a week ago Djokovic was dealing with the illness of his father, now he finishes on top of the world grand style, something Federer is more than familiar with.
“Today we had times where we had longer rallies, we had times where we had shorter rallies,” said Federer. “We had some great stuff out there. It was good playing such points. I think the quality was good. I shouldn’t have been broken as often as I was broken today. But then again, that obviously has something to do with Novak, as well. It was extremely close today.”
As was the pattern yesterday, the player who seized control early eventually let go, and that happened again.
Federer opened the match playing a blistering brand of tennis. Showing no signs of a 31-year-old on court for a third straight day of tennis against stiff competition, Federer jumped all over the 25-year-old Djokovic winning the first NINE points of the match. In a blink Federer led 3-0 and seemed to have the opening set in the bag with points for 4-0, but it wasn’t to be.
“I was just trying to hang in there,” said Djokovic, on being 0-3 down in the first set. “It’s not the first time that Roger started against me so well. I’ve experienced before his aggression, really trying to put his mark on the match. I didn’t know in which direction the match would really go, but I tried to convince myself that I would make a turnaround and I will fight.”
Fight he did.
Unshaken by Federer’s flying start, Djokovic dug in by mixing up his game. He had withstood the initial Federer charge and then, in the first of many momentum swings, mounted his own offensive improbably reeling off five of the next six games.
Then the tide turned again as Novak, serving for the set, couldn’t convert a set point.
The two settled and stayed even, forcing a breaker. Djokovic led early, Federer responded and then with the set in the balance the Swiss came up with a remarkable cross court retrieval winner to level again, 6-6. With the tennis world on its feet and Djokovic in disbelief at Federer’s shotmaking, the Serb shrugged it off, went back to work and as if nothing had happened coolly won the last two points to steal a set he had no business winning.
With Djokovic breathing easier, Federer again jumped out in front, though not for long. With Federer serving for the second at 5-4, 40-15, it seemed for certain we’d go three. Not so fast. Just when you think you have this match figured out, you don’t.
Djokovic woke up from his second set slumber just in time to crack the Swiss once again. Novak broke back, leveled then broke Federer again to take the title in an entertaining finale to the season.
“I was playing really great tennis throughout the whole week,” Djokovic said. “Tonight, whenever I needed to, to I came up with some really good shots. Really focus myself to get every ball back in the court. So I cannot be more thrilled than I’m feeling now.”
In conclusion, Federer was better at the start, Novak better at the end. And in sports it’s how finish that counts and Novak finished strong going undefeated in the event.
“I think there were too many to really pinpoint one because any one of them, obviously, could have thrown the match into a different direction again in the first, and in the second, too,” said Federer remarking on the swings in the match. “More so in the first maybe because there were more twists and turns. Maybe a bit of regret because I had the lead twice, first before him.”
Novak’s win gives assures him of the No. 1 ranking after the Australian Open and if there really was any dispute over the Player of the Year, that’s over.
For Federer, it’s a tough loss – hell, he’s a few in his career! – but he once again showed that even into his 30s the magic is still there. Unfortunately with the way Djokovic and Andy Murray are playing, not to mention Rafael Nadal and the return of Juan Martin Del Potro, he’ll need to conjure more of that in the next season to stay a realistic No. 1 threat.
Sixty days until Australia. It should be fun.
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