Sunday, March 1, 2015

DUBAI: Federer downs Djokovic to claim seventh title in the Emirates

Photo via Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Thirteen years ago, Roger Federer’s appearance fees and prize money in Dubai were withheld after the former tournament director accused him of not trying hard enough. It seems like a lifetime ago but Federer still remembers it.

He eventually got his prize money and was given his appearance fees the following year, upon his return to the event. Since then, the Swiss has gone to win the title in the UAE seven times from nine finals – the last of which was captured Saturday night with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over world No1 Novak Djokovic.

Over a decade after he received that accusation, Dubai now joins Wimbledon and Halle as the only three tournaments Federer has won seven times – the most he’s ever amassed at one event.

I had a rough first visit here to Dubai where I was accused for not putting in my best effort, I remember, and I came back the following year and won it and went on a roll,” said Federer.

I really felt like I had something to prove after that, and I guess that's what got me to my winning ways here in Dubai. And then ever since then I fell in love with the tournament and the crowd and the city here.”

Yesterday’s triumph gave Federer his 84th career singles trophy and saw the 33-year-old legend cross the 9,000 aces mark, joining Goran Ivanisevic (10,183), Ivo Karlovic (9,375) and Andy Roddick (9,074) as the only players to hit that milestone since the ATP started keeping count in 1991.

You’d think with all the records he has smashed, Federer would not be focusing much on hitting 9,000 or more aces, but the Swiss revealed that he was actually keeping track and caught himself counting in the second set to see if he had achieved it.

I think I remember which one it was even because I was even counting a little bit,” he said of his 9,000th ace. “I wasn't sure. I think it was one of the swinger wides maybe. But I think it happened in the second set at some point. But clearly it is nice to get past that so now I don't have to think about it ever again for the next 1,000 or so.”

Facing Djokovic for a 37th time, Federer was looking to beat the Serb two times in a row for the first time since 2012, when he defeated him at Wimbledon then Cincinnati.

The stadium was already filling up a couple of hours before kick-off which was great news for the preceding match featuring the doubles finalists, who rarely get this kind of attention.

A buzzing atmosphere and a full house awaited the pair – tickets were oversold and there were spectators standing in every corner. The crowd seemed evenly split, looking to out-chant each other with their N-O-L-Es and their R-O-G-E-Rs.

Federer was the first to face break points, saving two in a lengthy third game before holding on for a 2-1 lead.

The games got closer and tighter but the set remained on serve until game eight. An overcooked forehand, a double-fault and a long backhand from Djokovic helped Federer get a crucial break and lead 5-3. The Swiss served out the set with a service winner.

The second set was just as tense as the first and neither player saw any break chances until the eighth game, where Djokovic got his hands on two. But Federer produced four service winners in a row to hold for 4-all, and brought his serving best once again two games later, saving two set points in similar fashion.

In a bizarre 11th game, Djokovic went up 40-0 before getting pegged back. The world No1 double-faulted to face a break point and Federer didn’t blink, hitting an inside out forehand winner to move forward 6-3, 6-5.

The Swiss got his first match point on a wide passing shot attempt from Djokovic and gave out a huge ‘come on’. But Federer missed an easy drive, perhaps reacting to an ill-timed cry out from the stands. He then double-faulted and it looked like Djokovic might still have a chance with a break point in hand.

But an average overhead helped Federer save it and on his second match point, the No2 seed did not falter, firing a big serve and following it up with a forehand drive winner to claim the dhow boat trophy for a seventh time in 12 appearances.

I don't think it's changed much over the years. This is nice. Some trophies keep changing. This looks familiar,” said Federer admiring his shiny boat.

I felt very good about the way I was playing today, was very positive ball striking, and then I just needed to make sure that I mixed it up enough and served big when I had to.”