In the 46th instalment of one of the modern era’s great tennis rivalries, Australian Open champion Roger Federer takes on Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic. There has at times been little love lost between these two great competitors. But there can be no doubting the respect each has for the other’s capabilities on a tennis court and a thriller could well be in store in Ohio. But will it be title number eight for Federer or the unprecedented Career Golden Masters for Djokovic?
Djokovic has the slight edge over Federer in their rivalry, leading the head-to-head 23-22, though they have not met competitively since Djokovic dispatched the Swiss 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3 in the Australian Open semifinals in 2016. But despite Djokovic holding the overall advantage, Federer has been the king in Cincinnati. They have met three times, always in the final, and Federer has won all three in straight sets, 6-1 7-5 in 2009, 6-0 7-6 in 2012 and 7-6 6-3 in 2015.
Path to the final
Federer, the second seed, began his tournament with a comfortable 6-4 6-4 win over Peter Gojowczyk after a first-round bye. He then dismissed Leonardo Mayer 6-1 7-6 to set up a quarterfinal clash with his compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, with Federer having to pull double duty thanks to a rain delay. Wawrinka made him work hard for the win, but he claimed it 6-7 7-6 6-2. He then reached the final when David Goffin was forced to retire from their semifinal trailing 6-7 1-1.
Djokovic, outside the top eight seeds for the first time since 2006, opened his campaign with a 6-4 7-6 win over Steve Johnson, in which he squandered his first eight match points. He then overcame a slow start to best Adrian Mannarino 4-6 6-2 6-1. Rain delays then aided his cause in a 2-6 6-3 6-4 win over defending champion Grigor Dimitrov before he stopped the big-serving Milos Raonic 7-5 4-6 6-3. Djokovic then notched his 15th win over Marin Cilic in 17 meetings with a 6-4 3-6 6-3 victory.
How do they match up?
Matches between Federer and Djokovic have provided some of the most engaging contests the tennis world has seen in recent years. For the two men are very evenly matched despite different approaches to the game. Federer is typically ultra-aggressive and looks to keep the points short by going for winners early or to force the issue by coming to the net. Djokovic is more comfortable extending rallies and will back himself to overcome Federer if he can make this a baseline duel.
Federer will need his serve to be firing to avoid that outcome. Fortunately, it has been of late. The Swiss has held his last 95 service games in Cincinnati, a run that included his 49 in a row en route to the title in 2015. But he faces the greatest test any server can against the Djokovic return. The Serb has always been able to read the Federer serve better than any other player. That has allowed him unparalleled success against the Federer serve, though it has gotten the better of him more than once.
Federer has won their last three matches in Cincinnati at a canter. The reason is that the conditions in Ohio do not favour Djokovic. He has long struggled to deliver his best tennis in hot and humid conditions and no stop on the Tour is as hot and humid as Cincinnati. Thus whilst he might have a good chance in a night match, with this contest likely to begin around 4 pm local time, Federer holds all the cards. Expect a straight sets win for the Swiss and more Cincinnati disappointment for Djokovic.