The main question going into the Dubai final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic was this: Could the Serb maintain the superiority he displayed in a 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-4 semifinal victory over the Swiss in last month’s Australian Open, a tournament he’d go on to win?
Following another decisive win Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, the answer is an unqualified yes.
Djokovic had dominated the rallies in Rod Laver Arena and there was early indication that things would he would do the same in the 5,000-seat Dubai Tennis Stadium. With Federer serving at 30-30 in the third game of the opening set, the players engaged in a long rally that ended with Federer hitting a forehand over the baseline. When he shanked a backhand wide on the next point, giving Djokovic the break and a 2-1 lead, it was an ominous sign for the world No. 2.
Djokovic had another break point in the next Federer service game but the Swiss held on, though not for long. Making good on 85 percent of his first serves and losing just three points with his first serve in the first set, Djokovic was solidly in control, wrapping up the set with another service break in the final game.
Federer’s finest moments came when he broke serve to lead 2-1 in the second set. Djokovic seemed tight and tired, coughing up backhand errors. But, as happened in the Australian Open, the longer the rallies lasted, the more likely Djokovic was to win points with the depth, power and consistency of his ground strokes. In the third game of the second set, a stat was shown indicating that Djokovic won 70 percent of rallies that went beyond six hits. Another telling stat: Djokovic forced Federer to hit his backhand 73 percent of the time. At the Aussie Open, it was 72 percent.
Djokovic, after falling behind 1-3 in the second set, ran of five games in a row, once winning 15 of 17 points as the match got to what the Brits call “the business end.” He was merciless in pounding Federer’s backhand, and the Swiss simply crumbled at the end.
Along with his victories over Federer in the U.S. and Aussie Open semifinals, Djokovic’s win in the Dubai final makes it clear that he is the de facto world No. 2. Djokovic is 12-0 in 2011 and is still riding the wave from Serbia’s Davis Cup triumph in December. He also seems firmly ensconced somewhere in Federer’s head.
A minor criticism of Djokovic would be his saying of “bravo” when Federer hit a forehand winner early in the second set. There was something patronizing about it, and he surely wouldn’t have done the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot and Federer was dominating.
Looking ahead, Djokovic is indisputably playing at a new level, but his breathing problems in hot, humid conditions could prove obstacles for him at upcoming events such as Indian Wells and Miami.
As for Federer, at least he didn’t get physically beaten in Dubai—all five of his matches ended in between an hour and 10 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes. Unfortunately for him, the last one went a little too fast and had a distinctly unfavorable outcome.