The final is set in the last tune-up before the US Open begins in 9 days or so, and it’s a blockbuster. Novak Djokovic will try to win his first Cincinnati title and complete the Masters sweep against Mr. Cincinnati himself, 6-time champion Roger Federer.
Before I get to the pick, a quick wrap of today’s semifinal round, which turned out better than I though it would be.
First, Djokovic came out a little weary against the tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov. The two played a tight first two sets in Miami this year before Djokovic ran away with the third. And that’s what happened today.
Dolgopolov jumped out early with a quick break. They then traded a bunch of breaks before the streaky Ukranian took it 6-4.
Midway through the second, Djokovic overcame an injury scare with a stomach muscle. And as he was getting treatment there was some serious talk on-air if he would even continue. But the Serb popped a few pills, returned to the court, upped his level a little and took the breaker to win it.
With the stomach issue a thing of the past (or so it seemed) and Dolgoplov’s belief fading, Djokovic cruised in the third to win 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 and reach his fifth Cincinnati final.
It was far from Novak’s best performance – though playing Dolgopolov is never a straightforward process – but he won, and as long as that muscle ailment isn’t a concern, he should be fine.
“When I was 0-3 in the tiebreaker it all looks like it’s going to go [Dolgopolov’s] way,” said Djokovic. “But I managed to dig deep and refused to give up. That’s how I won. Basically the same as against Goffin, and that’s how I won today.
“I was not very happy the way I played,” added Djokovic. “But, again, a win is a win. I managed to do that because I was always there fighting.”
Next was a scintillating match-up between Federer and Andy Murray. Federer’s really dominated Murray the last year or so and with Murray having played so much tennis, especially the last two days, I thought this would go two sets to the Swiss.
Federer, who’s looked so very good in his first event of the summer – though against very comfortable competition – had that aggressive mindset all day and I thought Murray was just a little heavy in the legs. Murray put up a good fight and played better than I thought he would, but Federer was just too good in the end.
Federer now leads Murray 14-11 winning their last 5 with 10 sets in a row!
So for Andy, I wouldn’t be that concerned going into New York, although if Roger gets his No. 2 ranking back that could be an issue!
“I feel okay,” said Murray. “I’ve done well to recover from some tough matches. It’s good. The positive about losing today is I get the opportunity to have an extra days’ rest and recovery. I need that.
“I didn’t feel too bad on the court. There wasn’t many long rallies today, which helped. I served well, so I was able to get a lot of free points there.
“Maybe the first shot after the return he was just a little bit slow there. Against Roger, he’s extremely dangerous off the first shot of the rallies. A good example of that is the 5-all point in the tie-break. I hit a pretty good return and just couldn’t quite get to that ball and hit a good shot there.”
As for tomorrow…
Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer
This one is even-steven 20-20, so Sunday night someone will hold the advantage. Will it be Federer again on top in this rivalry or will Djokovic get his first career edge on the Swiss?
Based on what I’ve seen, the answer is Roger. Forget that he’s 34, the guy hasn’t lost serve yet and he’s playing incredibly well, incredibly efficient and he loves playing in Cincinnati – he’s won it six times, never losing the finals!
Meanwhile, Novak’s looked patchy, leaking errors and appearing flat, almost disinterested sometimes. He should have lost a few days ago to David Goffin who was up two breaks in the third before colossally choking the match.
Djokovic played much better over a mentally-tapped Stan Wawrinka yesterday, but again today he looked a little wobbly.
And Djokovic has never won this event even losing twice in the Cincinnati finals to Roger. A fact neither can dismiss.
“Of course somewhere in back of your mind you do have that awareness of what’s at stake, but generally it’s a match like any other,” said Djokovic. “I just want to believe that fifth is the lucky time.”
In the end, I expect more great serving from Roger, more attacking on this quick court – like Dubai when Federer beat him.
“It would be great to win another Masters 1000, especially here in Cincinnati,” said Federer. “Going for my seventh here is just great. It’s wonderful to be another finalist because coming here now I’m perfectly prepared for the final.
“I’ve been practicing and away from the game since Wimbledon. It’s not that long, but in tennis terms one month is a long time. I’ll give it all I have tomorrow. It’s going to be tough. Couldn’t ask for a tougher opponent than Novak.
“Hopefully I can take advantage of the fact that I’m fresh and ready to go.”
Djokovic will raise his level, I have to think. Higher than we’ve seen. But like Stan denying Novak the career Slam in Paris, Roger denies Novak the career Masters sweep here.
The pick: Federer in 3
Would it surprise me if Djokovic wins, or wins easily? It wouldn’t. Novak’s No. 1 for a reason and he’s had the upper hand on Roger the last few years. I just think here the surface and confidence levels favor Federer. At Wimbledon, Federer was also playing well, but so too was Novak, better than he was here.
That said, after being upset last week by Murray, Djokovic probably doesn’t want to be on losing streaks to both rivals going into the US Open.
ESPN2 has live coverage starting at 1pm.
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