2018 Cincy Final: Djokovic Routines Federer 4 and 4

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By Roland Garros 2016, Djokovic winning a significant tennis tournament was a foregone conclusion. He won everything, had been basically doing so since 2014. 2015 and 2016 were arguably peak Djoker. Fedal were no where to be found. Murray and Stan made little cameos here and there. The tour belonged to Novak Djokovic.

Then Djokollapse, a storied chapter of this man’s career that began in 2016 and lasted almost two years (even that linked search doesn’t quite cover the Serb’s massive collapse covered here on Mcshow Blog).

2018 will be called, among other things, the return of Novak. He started the year looking awful, evidence that he was still reeling from this complicated fall from grace, but as spring arrived, so did new life in the Serb’s return to form. We recall quickly Rome, Roland Garros, Queen’s and of course Wimbledon, where he won his fourth Gentlemen’s Championship, remembered best, perhaps, for his win over Nadal in an epic SF.

His comeback briefly stumbled in Toronto at the first of two N. American hard court Masters events. The second part of this back-to-back Masters block goes off in Cincinnati. This was the only Masters title to have escaped Djokovic’s trophy case. He’d won at least two of the other eight Masters titles, 8 of 9 going into today’s final, which is already quite the commentary on his versatility (Federer has won 7/9, Nadal 6/9).

Winning today, beating Federer 64 64 is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. After what appears more and more to be a calculated loss in Toronto, slowing briefly, slightly the run of his comeback, Djokovic secures his only missing Masters title and beat the seven-time winner Federer convincingly.

He has lost to Federer three times in Cincinnati finals, the last one in 2015 (though Djokovic did prevail over Federer a few weeks later in the U.S. Open final). This tournament is considered sacred Federer real estate. Brad Gilbert today said Djokovic has said himself that beating Roger in Cincinnati is as difficult as beating Rafa at Roland Garros (I’m not buying that, but Novak had certainly seen his share of defeats in Cincinnati, a few of those coming against Roger. I don’t think he’d even won a set against Federer in Cincy, certainly not in the three previous finals in which he lost).

So, this win is huge on a few different fronts. The comeback is back on track; he completes the Masters sequence; he beats Federer in the final; and he clearly (he already was even if he’d lost today) confirms his status as favorite going into NYC in a few week’s for the year’s final major.

As for the match, there’s not too much to discuss other than Novak raised his level (slightly) a notch and Federer’s level continued to creak and sway like an old bridge over the rushing waters of ATP success down below. Federer looked pretty bad today. His ROS continues to absolutely pollute the court, his game, his chances of doing anything of any measure in these matches of consequence.

Novak improved his second serve today compared to his SF v Cilic, but still, Federer was just awful in this part of the match. This helps explain, but complicates this claim: Djokovic’s serve was more effective than Federer’s. If you said that yesterday, that this would be an element of the match, Federer has no shot.

Of course Djokovic is going to get into his opponent’s serve. He broke Federer like clockwork — to secure the first set in quite undramatic and clinical fashion at 3-3 (what a terrible game from Roger) and to ruin Federer’s little comeback in the second by breaking back on Federer who started the second set 2-0 with his own (lone) break of Novak, needing to hold his serve to consolidate to 3-0 and start to develop some confidence and momentum, perhaps turn this little tennis match into a classic Masters final between two of the sport’s all-time greats.

This was anything but a classic. This was simply Novak planting his flag into Federer’s court, whatever confidence Federer still has, announcing to the tennis world far and wide that he has indeed made his return.

But let’s underline part of that last point. Federer’s confidence has been waning for months now. Even his Aussie Open win (a win is a win, mind you) was less than Maestro-like. After consolidating his 20th major, he hunted and landed the honor of becoming the sport’s oldest #1 in the world, in Rotterdam. Since then, he’s been on decline.

I watched Federer play an Indian Wells SF v Coric, in person, that dazzled the tennis imagination. He was brilliant, but needed sheer brilliance just to escape that match. He then had MP on his racket against Del Potro in the final — but could not close the deal (we’ve seen this from Federer before, from many players, but this seemed to really define the decline). Miami was a disaster and the grass courts were really awful but for his first Stuttgart title (where he actually showed some decent form beating Kyrgios — who likes to play Roger — and Raonic); indeed, Halle and Wimbledon really punctured the Maestro’s armor, another MP, another missed opportunity in the QF against Anderson (Novak sure stole that 2018 SW19 thunder).

I hit my ping pong theory around recently. Federer’s flick FH has been around for years, but it’s gotten to be more and more of a troubling development for his tennis; what makes it so troubling is how many tennis and Fed fans mistake it for genius and how much opponents feast on this little morsel.

Like the cases (using some recent examples) of Mayer, Wawrinka and Djokovic in Cincinnati, he was unable to really stay with these boys from the BL. The ground strokes are just not there. Can his form and confidence return ala Melbourne/Miami 2017 in time for NYC? I guess given the lunacy of the ATP over the last few years, anything is possible. But this FH is just a mess.

Here is a short video clip I got from a Fed Fan’s blog (of course, he thinks this is genius work from the Federer FH. He is terribly wrong).

Look how his body is positioned at impact, how little his legs or his torso matter in this shot. There are about three of these ping pong FHs here in this clip. The real excitement for these fans is in the final flick FH pass that gets by Mayer. Look especially at the few previous. These are all top-spin, soft, generally too shallow and more or less invitations for a good opponent to take the upper-hand in the exchange. This is much of Federer’s BL FH game at this point. He was forced out of this to beat Stan. Stan’s FH and BH will obliterate this all-arm and wrist action. Even Djokovic today used those deeper heavier ground strokes that, despite heavy spin, are hit with so much more footwork, body and pace.

This shot really reared its head in London last year at the WTF. I described this shot as Federer sitting on the pot. He’s “squatting” as he strikes the ball (you can see this image as you watch the clip above and other highlights of the Fed Express). This is just poor, and non-threatening BL tennis. Can Federer continue to win and advance deep into draws? Of course. His serve, his BH when he has that going, his ROS, his imposing FH, his S & V (all of these elements were in top form starting in Melbourne 2017).

But, as I said in my Cincy final preview, that ship, I’m afraid, has sailed.

This FH, for me, is a definitive symptom.

In other words, Djokovic, as we said, was the clear favorite today; his win is not surprising at all. Federer needed to be perfect. He wasn’t close.

But Djokovic is close to his 2016 sense of confidence and dominance.

25 thoughts on “2018 Cincy Final: Djokovic Routines Federer 4 and 4

  1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Federer is no more ageing, he is simply old. The genius, the magic is still there. But the time is gone and nob ody will give him more time for every shot, he needs right now to deliver his best performance. He is all the time in delay, never reaching comfortable positions. That’s why his shots, esp. the forehand, is so vulnerable. Fed is still the king, when he can decide himself about timing – at serve. If his serve would be a bit weaker (which happened for him occasionally in better times), he would loose 6:2, 6:2 or worse. I wrote this article http://prf-mypassions-tennisandmore.com/federer-slowly-disappearing-from-tennis/ in April this year. As for now I would change one word, replacing “slowly” by “faster and faster”. Maybe it’s over with majors and Masters titles or even finals. Would Fed (and tennis world) be happy with Fed winning still some ATP500?

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    1. Good post on Roger, WJ. Before the 2017 rebirth from Federer, I was arguing that Federer was already in exhibition mode — I called Roger’s Farewell Tour. But he was the only one giving Djokovic a decent match back then 2014 – 2016. But it wasn’t winning tennis, not with Novak playing that way.

      The 2017-18 run of majors contradicted this theory. Pretty remarkable turn of events.

      And skipping the French was complicated for me too. My theory is he over-reacted to what Ivan had said about the French/clay and my own theories about Nadal and the clay.

      Federer should have been more discerning in his clay schedule throughout his career. Nadal’s dominance on clay gave him a mental advantage against players (especially Roger) on other surfaces. Ivan had said he would have skipped some clay if he was Roger.

      But skipping the entire season twice now is odd and like you say doesn’t really equate to preserving health.

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      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        I thpught about Farewell Tour too and must have left the FedFan forum after heavy shooting on me 😉 I think, Fed had lots of luck in this rebirth (weak field). Now most of those missing are back or going to be back. And Fed going old. Cannot hold baseline rallies even against guys like Coric, not to speak about Djoker or Rafa or even Thiem (if really fit).
        Skipping clay was IMO reaction to Sunshine Double misery. 2017 would have been probably the best Farewell Tour for Roger. If this is the end of big wins for him, it means, he choose the worst exit (there are three: after big title in glory, after serious injury or … too late. I fear, he is just on the third way. No exhibition mode this year (meaning showing all the RF Magic but losing).
        Did you have the same impression, Fed had not so big support in the crowd as he usually has? I think, it was 50:50, not 99% for Fed. Maybe people feel,

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      2. Cincy had a good Serbian crowd support. Fed even glared at a fan for saying something less supportive. Ha ha.

        Yeah, he did enjoy the weaker field BUT what we know and understand is that winning titles in the end all pretty much mean the same. Part of being great/successful is having one’s health. As I have said numerous times, Novak’s entire career has been a series of peaks and valleys.

        2008 his first
        2011 a big run
        2014-16 a big run
        2018 >> another one

        And he benefited during the 2014-16 run from a very depleted field. Roger gave some of those major finals a bit of class — without Roger he would have been beating some pedestrians.

        So, it works both ways. Health is a huge factor. You have to be in it to win it.

        And let’s be clear — Fed’s 2017 form, early, was off the charts — AO through the Sunshine Double was rampant, all-time. I will be talking about this later in a post. A shame that this sort of Djoker couldn’t play that 2017 Fed. He went out too early in draws to meet Federer. So, again, this all goes both ways.

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    1. I tried to leave a comment, like before. Not sure if you will get it, it will publish.

      I agree, it’s problematic. Djokovic asked the chair when he started the clock. Doesnn’t seem very uniform in how it will be used and monitored. Do the players know the rule completely?

      Like

  2. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Yes, I got it, thanx 🙂 I have disabled moderation, so every comment is published instantly. It works well for me so far. No trolls or something. BTW – a troll with good sende of humor would be nice guest 😉 But people are mostly only reading/watching. It’s OK. I cane have nice discussion with you here 🙂

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    1. Cool. I’m certainly enjoying the conversation and I have the same sense over here — mostly people reading. I used to have more regular commenters. Oh well.

      Maybe we do some kind of combination down the road. I have a feeling we could talk ATP for days. 😀

      Like

  3. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Well, no Edit functionality here 😉
    … Maybe people feel, Roger is no more a dominant and majestic winner, losing only after dramatic epics?

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    1. Not sure. Let’s see how USO goes, the end of the season. Rafa will have something to say at the USO probably before he goes away — the Spaniard has never won Shanghai, Paris-Bercy or WTF.

      How about that Uniqlo contract . . . 10 years.

      Like

      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        If I was Uniqlo, I would make a deal with Fed for 20 or 50 years, no matter he plays or not 😉 Good deal for Uniqlo. Maybe there is a clause, all small Feds will wear Uniqlo for a lifetime?

        Like

  4. Clint Grike

    Nice post Matt, and good thoughts WJ. Been reading and agreeing without having much to say recently. Fed’s level has clearly slipped this year and its only heading in one direction. What has been the biggest disappointment for me since RG has been the failures of Zverev, the disappearance of Chung, and the lack of impact of any other of the nextgen throng. Are these guys going to be another failed generation? I think novak probably deserves a few more slams (though it will pain me if he overtakes big Pete). But the lack of competition for the big 3 (big 2 if fed’s decline continues) is the real story here.

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    1. You’re absolutely right, Clint. In all of this analysis of Fed decline and Djoker return to dominance, we have the incredible case of the shrinking tour.

      The Big 3 or 4 or 5 can literally take a year or so off and comeback only to find the same old obstacles, as if they didn’t miss much. Pretty bizarre. And sad or frustrating or whatever one might feel about that. Even if you’re a blowhard fanboy/girl, you have to realize this isn’t good for the sport at all.

      Novak has Pete in his sights for sure. He’s only 31. I don’t think Rafa or Novak have the Federer longevity in them, but they’re good for a few more years for sure, especially with so little, to your point, standing in their way.

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  5. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    It’s just like in your quote about “the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yeah – things change but Big3-4-5 remain the same. Well, the oldest seem to be close to the end. But Rafa, Djoker, maybe Stan, can still go high for 3-4 years.
    Maybe it’s partly because the competition on an intermediate level was smaller in prime time of the Bigxxx. Now the potential replacement must first overcome lots of quite good players from different gens. Thiem can lose to Tsitsipas before having chance to play Rafa. Zverev can lose to Coric or Haase before having chance to meet Fed. And so on. It’s harder today to develop a winner personality. You win beat today a top guy, tomorrow you lose to upcoming youngster. In prime times of Bigxxx the upcoming youngsters where just they. They “only” needed to challenge the old guard, which was earlier ready to go. Today racket technology helps top players to remain longer on top. Imagine Federer still playing 90″ frame against current mean players. You see sometimes old new faces surging all of a sudden, claiming first minor titles at 27 or later. Or almost forgotten oldies (Baghdatis) coming back somehow. Let them all play wooden rackets and limit body height to 190 cm and the image will drastically change.

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    1. All of this will explained with my treatise on the era: HRFRT.

      The timing for this release is getting close. NYC has to be, practically, a final hurrah for Roger. Granted, we’ve been taught not to doubt these guys, but 37 and the state of his game seem pretty indicative.

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  6. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Maybe Rod Laver Cup more important for Fed now than USO? Better chances for him at RLC than NYC. Amd this was nice last year, quite a competitive exho or quite an exhibitive competition 😉 With such nice things like Fedal doubles. This year probably Fedjoker doubles? Then Hopman Cup and Match for Africa and Match for Something in Scotland and some other Matches for Something. Full house of celebrities guaranteed (maybe several billions dollars sitting out there), then Uniclo deal and Anna Wintour. Plus visiting Zambia, skiing in Alps and doing lots of things he likes but had never time to. And without official retirement maybe 1 or 2 WC for Halle and Wimbledon, not caring about competition but just giving a RF Magic Show and losing in first round. Well, it’s my imagination, Roger has for sure some own 😉 Maybe new era for you to write another treatise like HOW ROGER FEDERER NEVER RETIRED (HRFNR)? 😉

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    1. Ha ha.

      He is looking forward to LC. You’re right: last year’s was actually a little compelling. Fedal, the team spirit of both, and the final singles between Fed and Kyrgios was quite good.

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  7. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Off-topic, latest good news about Thiem you can find on the bottom of this post http://prf-mypassions-tennisandmore.com/us-open-2018/
    About Fed – I can bet, he has some other concepts of RLC-like events. Fans will need to choose. To watch Fed or to follow ATP Tour, ha, ha, ha …
    I was sure since last 3-4 years,Fed will invent the fourth way to “retire” = never retire, simply no more play ATP events 😉

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  8. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    And I have a title for my Thiem-USO story (to be published in more than 2 weeks) HOW THIEM RUINED HIS IMMUNE SYSTEM BUT WAS STILL FIT ENOUGH TO WIN US OPEN. Good, no? (sorry for a kind of plagiarism – maybe rather “paraphrasing”?)

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    1. Thiem’s team is a mess. No other way to see that. Sounds like he has some health issues. But I don’t trust Bresnik, mainly for his coaching.

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  9. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    I don’t thrust Bresnik either. I don’t think his coaching to be bad for Thiem. He is now mainly for basics (hitting skills) responsible. For tactics it’s Galo Blanco. Stober is for sure one of best physios. For fitness training there is another one – Mike Reinprecht.
    I’m quite sure, nobody understands Dominic’s game better than Bresnik and no body can grind better on details with him. Some aspects of hitting skills are not Bresnik’s strength and he knows this. Gary Muller is responsible for Serve and Return. Don’t know, who teaches him net game. Maybe Galo Blanco is not big enough to say Bresnik – OK, I’m now there to bring it all together so Dominic can win points/sets/matches easier.Maybe Dominic would need someone of the class of McEnroe, but he is for sure not available for the job. Moya would be good, when he ends with Rafa and is interested.
    Bresnik’s information policy is indeed a disaster.
    Well, the results are the ultimate measure of the team quality. They are so far not big enough for Thiem’s potential.

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      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        If it’s not opened yet (on your blog) it’s still closed ir my English is a mess (the most probable version), ha, ha

        Like

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