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By Chris Oddo | Sunday August 19, 2018

Novak Djokovic is the master of Masters, and it was a long time coming.

The Serb continued his comeback surge with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Roger Federer on Sunday at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati to become the first player in history to win all nine Masters 1000 titles.

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Djokovic, who lost his first five Cincinnati finals, including three to Federer, said the pressure had been building in his mind for a while even as he tried to block it out.

“Just filled with great emotions,” Djokovic told reporters after the final. “You know, obviously I tried for five times. I didn't succeed. I kept on coming here, and I felt, to be honest, more pressure every time that I kept coming.”

It was a special day in what has been a special summer for the 13-time major champion. Djokovic stormed to the Wimbledon title to erase all doubts about his ability to return to form after wrist surgery had placed his career on hold in 2018. After beginning the season 6-6, undergoing a medical procedure on his right elbow in February and sacking his newly formed coaching team Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, Djokovic has reunited with longtime muse Marian Vajda and forged a path back to the scintillating form that he displayed when he became the only player in his era to hold all four major titles at the same time in 2016.

But even after Wimbledon it didn’t feel like a lock that Djokovic would be able to continue his elevated form on the hardcourts. He fell in the third round to then 19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas in Toronto and in his first five matches in Cincinnati Djokovic struggled at times with timing and intensity.

But all the while the will to win was growing, and it showed as the Serb battled through four consecutive three-setters to reach the final, twice recovering from a set down to reach the quarterfinals, then defeating Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic in three-sets to reach the final.

It was Djokovic’s first hardcourt final since January of 2017, but the Serb was more than ready for the occasion as he dominated Federer from the baseline and snapped the Swiss’ run of 100 consecutive holds at Cincinnati, breaking three times on six opportunities to march to a relatively uncomplicated victory.

After the final, Djokovic expressed gratitude to Federer and said that playing against the Swiss for the first time in two and a half years was a great pleasure for him.

“It's a pleasure to share the court with him, with the all-time great, I truly mean that,” Djokovic said. “With him, with Nadal, these guys have been such an integral, important part of my life and my career and my evolution as a tennis player. You know, they make me play my best tennis. They make me improve. They made me, you know, think about what I need to do in order to try to be the best player in the world.”

For Federer, who turned 37 on August 8, the pleasure wasn’t as sweet.

He struggled to make returns and rarely got the better of the Serb during baseline rallies.

Federer saved two break points in the first game of the match but could not do the same in the seventh game when he completely whiffed on a forehand on break point to hand Djokovic the 4-3 lead.

Djokovic lost just two points on serve in his next two service games and when a Federer backhand return sunk into the net the Serb had the opener, 6-4, in 37 minutes.

Tennis Express

After a trade of breaks in the second set, Djokovic would power through in the seventh game, when an uncharacteristically bad double-fault by Federer gave the Serb a break point. He capitalized immediately, sending a backhand pass down the line for a clean winner and a 4-3 lead, and he did not face a break point as he held in the final two games to clinch his victory in one hour and 24 minutes.

Federer was somewhat puzzled by his own ability to provide answers to Djokovic's all-court defensive stylings in this contest, but after the match he expressed a desire to put it in the past as soon as possible. The Swiss was playing on hardcourts for the first time this summer and won’t dwell on things or carry the loss with him to New York.

“I don't even want to look for reasons why it happened,” he said of his performance. “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.”

Djokovic improves to 24-22 against Federer with the victory, and he earns his 70th career title and his 31st Masters 1000 title. But it was the Golden Masters crown that really excited him, like the rest of the tennis world, when all was said and done.

“Definitely one of the most special moments in my career,” he said. “Achievements, making history of the sport that I truly love is a great privilege and honor and something that I'll be very proud of for the rest of my life.”


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