ATP Tour Final – Federer v Djokovic

By Cressida Smart

For the fifth time this year, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will go head to head.
The two best men’s players in the world – the Australian Open champion against the
Wimbledon champion – with their season series tied at two matches each, doing battle in
the final match of the 2012 season.

Djokovic bested Federer in Rome and at Roland Garros, while Federer was the victor at
Wimbledon and in Cincinnati. Monday’s final will mark the 29th time that the two have
met, with Federer holding a 16-12 advantage. Neither man has had an easy path to the
final, with Djokovic needing three sets to dispatch Juan Martín del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-2,
while Federer bested U.S. Open champion Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 6-2.

What is there left to say about Roger Federer as a tennis player? He came into this
tournament after losing in the final at Basel, a tournament he calls his own, against del
Potro and pulled out of the Masters in Paris last week to be ready for the ATP Tour
Finals. His preparation for this event is always second to none. You can’t discount him
collecting the trophy for the third year in a row here after a stunning year.

Federer started the year way off the pace in the points, but stated his goal was to reclaim
the world No.1 spot. Many mocked his predictions, but seven titles this year, including
Wimbledon, have realised exactly what he prophesised. He has now lost just one match
in the last 14 here: the three set loss to del Potro in the round robin group. In addition,
he has won back to back titles in 2011 and 2010 and in total, a record six times. He has
failed to reach the semis only once and has only lost a total of five round robin games
from 33 played. In 11 years, he’s lost fewer games than Djokovic has in six years. He
truly is the man for this competition.

Age of course is now Federer’s biggest challenge. Looking through the years of this
competition, it’s true to say the quality in Federer’s earlier years was not up to the same
standard as it is now and in Djokovic he faces probably the greatest challenger to his
dominance.

Djokovic was never going to replicate this year what he achieved last year. It was beyond
human endurance to do so. He has given up a few titles this year, but has, for the majority
of the year, held onto the No.1 spot after a good last few months winning Beijing and
Shanghai back to back. Despite being a winner of this event back in 2008, his record is
not great and he’s won as many matches as he’s lost (9-9).

However, you could argue that Djokovic is now the complete tennis player and more
suited to this event. He has already been involved in two three set matches here this week
against Murray and del Potro and has the endurance to see another one out against the
man he takes most pleasure from beating. It’s true there’s no love lost between the two
and the last match up in Cincinnati saw Federer win the final with a straights sets victory
which included a bagel first set for Federer; the only time it’s happened between these
two in 28 meetings.

If Federer is to win, he must keep the rallies short and make his first serve count.
Djokovic is one of the best returners in the game and if he sees plenty of second serves
from Federer, he will take full advantage and pounce. For Djokovic, he has to be
aggressive and make Federer move around the court to bring about unforced errors.
Federer has been convincing this week most of the time, but against both del Potro and
Ferrer, his unforced error count was high. He can’t afford to do that against Novak.
Djokovic has to start well; Federer is incredibly hard to beat from behind and when he
is in front, he invariably stays there. In three set matches between the two, the winner of
the first set has gone on to lose only twice from 21 matches. So, winning the first set is
monumental, psychologically.

Playing as often as they have doesn’t give either man the advantage. Instead, it evens the
playing field, with each knowing the other’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. It’s
only fitting that Djokovic and Federer will contest the final match of the season, seeing as
how the two of them, along with Murray, have basically had their run of the sport since
Rafael Nadal went down with an injury in June and has since, not returned to action.

As ever there’s nothing between the two. Their records this year have been almost
identical on a hard court. It looks to be a three set affair yet again and regardless of who
wins, it’ll be a phenomenal end to another great ATP year.

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