CINCINNATI: Novak Djokovic gave his racket to a fan and tossed his sweatbands into the stands. No need for mementos from this victory. The long-awaited Rookwood pottery trophy would be plenty.
Djokovic finally mastered the one tournament that’s eluded him, beating nemesis Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4 for his first Western & Southern Open championship to become the first player to complete the sweep of Masters series tournaments on Sunday.
He got the better of a nostalgic rematch they hadn’t played in two years because of injuries and broke through in a tournament that Federer has won seven times, never losing a title match.
Having made five previous finals and lost to Federer in three of them, Djokovic finally broke the ice to continue his stunning revival after a long comeback from elbow surgery.
The Wimbledon champion is the first to claim the Career Golden Masters, having won all nine titles in the elite series’ current configuration that began in 1990.
“Obviously it’s a very special moment to stand here for the first time with the winning trophy,” former world number one Djokovic said.
“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 and winning Wimbledon and obviously Cincinnati for the first time.”
Djokovic has won his last three matches against Federer and now holds a 24-22 advantage in their long rivalry.
The world number 10 Serb is set to improve to sixth in the rankings and he will head to the US Open later this month highly favoured to win a third crown at Flushing Meadows.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam winner, said his game wasn’t sharp — but he didn’t want to take anything away from Djokovic’s achievement.
“Novakis a great champion,” Federer said. “This is about him making history.”
Federer’s serve had been untouchable all week held for 46 consecutive games. Djokovic broke that streak to go up 4-3 in the opening set, prompting Federer to mutter angrily. Djokovic served out the set, and then traded breaks with Federer early in the second set.
Federer’s game was off 28 unforced errors and Djokovic took full advantage. He broke him again to go up 4-3 and served it out.
BERTENS SHOCKS HALEP
In the women’s bracket, top-ranked Simona Halep let a match point slip away during the second-set tiebreaker, and Kiki Bertens rallied for a 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2 victory in her first hard-court final.
Bertens served a 109 mph ace , flipped her racket away, fell to her knees and raised both arms. Moments later, she covered her face for a joyous cry, wiping the tears away with her sweat-soaked blue wristband.
One point away from another loss, she had pulled off her biggest win, one that left her as stunned as everyone else.
“I cannot find words for this moment,” she said. “This is the best day of my career, winning on a surface that you didn’t really like. That’s a great feeling. I’m just so proud, and it’s such a great feeling to hold the trophy at the end of the week.”
The Dutch clay-court specialist ended Halep’s streak of nine straight wins, including the title at Montreal a week earlier. She’d never beaten a top-ranked player, but wore down Halep at the end of her two draining weeks.
During the week in Cincinnati, Halep had one match suspended overnight by rain and wound up playing twice in one day to reach the semi-finals. She controlled the first set on Sunday and had a chance to close it out, leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker.
When that slipped away, she never recovered, playing her worst in the final set 13 unforced errors that gave Bertens a chance to pull away.
“I had a match [point], so I was there,” Halep said. “I didn’t take my chance. In the third set, I was empty and I couldn’t fight anymore.”
Halep will be ranked No. 1 through the US Open. She fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, finishing as the runner-up in 2015 and each of the last two years.
“I need a little bit of rest because I’m exhausted,” Halep said. “But I also take the positive from these two weeks. It’s a great confidence boost.”
Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2018