It took more than five years, but victory never tasted so sweet for Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian etched his name in the history books on Sunday, clinching his first Western & Southern Open title. Five years after securing his eighth different ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown in Monte-Carlo, Djokovic has completed the full set in Cincinnati, capturing the Career Golden Masters with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Roger Federer.
Nine titles from nine different Masters 1000 tournaments. The Serbian achieved the unimaginable on an overcast afternoon in the ‘Queen City’. Moreover, he has added a 31st title overall at the elite level, moving to within just two of Rafael Nadal’s record haul.
“Obviously it’s a very special moment to stand here for the first time with the winning trophy here in Cincinnati,” Djokovic said on court following the match. “The hard times I went through, it’s been a rollercoaster ride in my career with injury, taking time off and having a surgery earlier this year. This seems a bit unreal to be back at this level.”
Djokovic needed one hour and 24 minutes to extend his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead over Federer to 24-22, notching a third straight victory in their longtime rivalry. The Belgrade native was aggressive off the ground and efficient on serve throughout the final, while Federer struggled to find his rhythm, hitting 39 unforced errors, including 20 off his forehand wing.
Djokovic moves up four spots in the ATP Rankings to No. 6, steadily plotting his return to the pinnacle. After losing six of nine matches upon return from an elbow surgery in March, the former World No. 1 was struggling mightily to rediscover his level. But, just a few months later, he is back with a vengeance, posting a 19-2 mark since the start of the grass season, which included a title at Wimbledon and runner-up finish at The Queen’s Club.
Federer was full of praise for Djokovic after the final: “Congratulations Novak on writing history today. It’s an amazing effort not just today but your whole career to get to this point. It’s an amazing achievement. You should be very proud. Well done.”
Following four straight three-set battles, Djokovic was eager to send an early message at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Fatigue would not play a factor on this day. Looking to pepper shots wide to Federer’s forehand, the Serbian earned a pair of break chances in the first game and he would eventually break through for a 4-3 lead. It snapped a streak of 100 straight service holds for the Swiss at this event.
Federer had been ruthlessly efficient on serve throughout the tournament, but Djokovic’s superior returning skills and dogged defence would rattle the Swiss in their 46th encounter. He would grab the opening set 6-4 in 40 minutes. Djokovic has lost just once when taking the first set in their rivalry, in Dubai in 2014.
Most Tour-Level Meetings (Open Era)
|Rivalry||No. of Meetings||Win-Loss|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal||52||Djokovic leads 27-25|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer||46||Djokovic leads 24-22|
|Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal||38||Nadal leads 23-15|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray||36||Djokovic leads 25-11|
|Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe||36||Lendl leads 21-15|
These encounters are never straightforward and Federer would ensure a plot twist to open the second set, breaking immediately for 2-0. But a scratchy service game, capped by a double fault, donated the break right back. As was the case in the early stages of his semi-final against David Goffin, Federer’s footwork was far from smooth and his rhythm was rattled by a dialed-in Djokovic.
“It was definitely not my best day on the return,” Federer, who won just four of 18 second-serve return points, added. “That’s it. It was just awful. But it’s okay. He served well. But missing every second serve on the forehand side, I don’t know what that was about. I don’t even want to look for reasons why it happened. I just think it did. Novak totally deserved to win today. This was not good enough. It’s okay. Good week, but I’m happy it’s over and I need to rest. So it’s all good.”
The 31-year-old earned the decisive break for 4-3, curling a forehand pass down the line. And he would complete his quest for the Career Golden Masters without pause, as Federer sent a forehand wide on his first match point.
“Roger wasn’t obviously at his best. He missed a lot of returns. He had a difficult time moving. He was not really playing as well as he did in previous matches this week, but at the same time, I thought I was solid. I didn’t allow him to come to the net and be aggressive too much and I tried to kind of hold ground and protect the line.
“It’s much easier said than done when you’re playing Roger, especially in these conditions where he loves playing here. Everything happens really, really fast and there is not much time to think or to construct the points, so you really need to be alert all the time, especially against him.”
Djokovic’s victory gives him a 70th tour-level title overall, giving him multiple trophies in 13 consecutive seasons. In addition, he raised his first at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level since 2016 in Toronto. He collects $1,088,450 and 1,000 ATP Rankings points.
Federer, meanwhile, suffered his first defeat in a Cincinnati final, falling to 7-1. He had defeated Djokovic in three previous championships, in 2009, 2012 and 2015. Moreover, the Swiss was denied his 99th tour-level crown, which he will now look to seize at the US Open.