Is it just a coincidence that Federer returned to Grand Slam glory at the same time that Djokovic began to struggle? From 2014 to 2016, Djokovic was 4-0 against Federer at the majors, but they haven’t met since the 2016 Australian Open. Since then, with Djokovic largely out of the picture, Federer has won three Slams and returned to No. 1.
Now these two all-time greats will finally face off again. Djokovic leads their head to head 23-22, and he has won six of their last eight meetings. But the one place where Djokovic hasn’t conquered Federer is in Cincinnati. They’ve played three finals on the relatively quick courts at the Western & Southern Open, and Federer has won all of them in straight sets. In two of those matches, Federer broke out of the gates and won the first set easily, before holding on in a tight second set. Could we see something similar this year?
Since the midway point of his quarterfinal against Stan Wawrinka, Federer has looked to be the player who is in better form. He fought tooth and nail to come back from a set down in that match, and fought hard again to edge David Goffin in a first-set tiebreaker in the semis. Federer played those matches aggressively, if slightly erratically, and was able to impose his considerable will in the end. A seven-time Cincy champ who loves the speed of the courts there, Federer has been refuse-to-lose mode, and that’s not a good sign for any prospective opponent.
Of course, Goffin and Wawrinka are not Djokovic. Many times in the past we’ve seen Federer play freely and easily in the late rounds of a tournament, only to fail to summon the same confidence against Djokovic in the final—the Serb makes the Swiss work as hard as anyone ever has. The reverse is true as well; many times we’ve seen Djokovic struggle to fend off an opponent, the way he did on Saturday against Marin Cilic, only to raise his level once he faces Federer. But knowing their history on this court, and seeing the edge that Federer has brought to his last two matches, I’ll take him this time.