For the third time this year the two top in the world, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, meet in a big match final. This time it’s for the red clay title in Rome, the last major tune-up before the French Open.
Djokovic was the first to reach the final, earning his ninth straight victory over David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4. It was Novak’s 21st straight win in a row, 25th consecutively at the Masters level. And after three straight three-set matches leading up to the semifinals, Djokovic put together one of his best efforts today in a pretty straightforward win.
“He’s a great competitor [and] he always makes you play an extra ball,” said Djokovic of Ferrer. “I did face a couple of break points, especially in the second set where maybe I was a little bit fortunate. I just found the way to dig my way through and [I] just played well enough to break him in both sets when it was most needed.”
Federer was on in the evening against his good buddy Stan Wawrinka who did him a great service by knocking out Rafael Nadal last night. And after Stan grabbed an early break, he did the right thing basically giving in to his hero as Federer ran away with the match 6-4, 6-2.
“I think Stan played well for the first set but the second set once he went a break down he was not serving as big as usual,” said Federer, who will now meet Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final, afterwards. “Maybe that was tactics but I was definitely able to take advantage.
“He’s also figuring things out as we go into the French Open and the win over Rafa was very good for his confidence. His game is there.
“I was very happy with how I played and how I imposed my game. I was really rock solid.”
Wawrinka had beaten Federer twice on clay before including at the Monte Carlo final last year, but had nothing for Federer after the early lead. And I mean nothing.
“Today was not a great match,” Wawrinka said. “I did not play well. I started well but generally I felt a bit flat. I was not there today unfortunately. When you are not 100 per cent against Roger it can be really fast. He served well and it went really quick.”
No Stan, you weren’t there today. But you did your job well clearing the way for Roger.
So the final is set.
Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer
In this their 39th meeting, Federer leads 20-18 with the two splitting their prior 2015 meetings in the Dubai (Federer) and Indian Wells (Djokovic) finals. This is of course on clay, a quicker clay Roger says, but still on the dirt at a place where Federer has never won in 14 previous tries while Djokovic can claim three titles including one last year over Rafa.
Though it may come as a surprise that Federer also leads Djokovic on the clay, winning four of seven with their most recent encounter going Federer’s way at Monte Carlo last year when Novak hurt his wrist. Before that Djokovic has won their last two and has two wins over Roger in Rome coming in 2009 and 2012. And that’s how I see it going tomorrow.
But I give Federer a real shot. The courts in Rome do play quick (albeit they are also in some disrepair), and Roger does give Djokovic a ton of problems when they play – he’s won at least a set in nine straight meetings against Novak. And Fed’s been playing well.
“Novak is not Rafa Nadal on clay,” Federer said. “I’ve done fairly well in the past against him. But we played here twice before and I lost both times. It’s up to me to put in a good performance.
Roger will have to continue to do what he’s been doing this week (he hasn’t lost a set!) – serve well and hit his backhand and attack. And Djokovic, as even he admits, hasn’t been as sharp as we have seen. So Roger’s got a very good chance to finally get this title, so there’s some added motivation.
“I feel very casual, I just like winning a title. OK, it’s Rome, it’s one I’ve never won, you may think it’s special,” Federer said. “But it’s not for me. It’s weird to explain, it’s just the way it is.”
The match will probably come down to a few break points and the player who best takes care of his second serve will win. I give that very slight edge to Djokovic who’s just been so solid, and I don’t think he’ll want to lose any momentum with the big prize just ahead.
The pick: Djokovic in three
Tennis Channel has the final live at 10am ET.
SUNDAY ROME SCHEDULE
CENTRALE start 11:00
WTA DOUBLES FINAL –  M. Hingis (SUI) / S. Mirza (IND) vs  T. Babos (HUN) / K. Mladenovic (FRA)
Not Before 1:30 pm
WTA SINGLES FINAL –  M. Sharapova (RUS) vs  C. Suárez Navarro (ESP)
Not Before 4:00 pm
ATP SINGLES FINAL –  N. Djokovic (SRB) vs  R. Federer (SUI)
PIETRANGELI start 2:30 pm
ATP DOUBLES FINAL – P. Cuevas (URU) / D. Marrero (ESP) vs  M. Granollers (ESP) / M. Lopez (ESP)
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