The ovation that embraced Roger Federer as he stepped onto court resounded like a homecoming cheer. The top-seeded Swiss barely uttered a word during his 87 minutes on court, but his feet just wouldn't shut up and his shots spoke volumes of self-belief.
Commanding the court as if playing in his backyard, Federer spent the first set deconstructing the game's best hard-court defender and closed with conviction to capture his record fifth Cincinnati title with a 6-0, 7-6 (7) victory over Novak Djokovic.
It is Federer's 21st Masters championship, which equals rival Rafael Nadal for most Masters crowns. This match marked the first time the world's top two squared off in the Cincinnati final and is believed to be the first time in the Open era two men reached an ATP final without being broken. All the elements were in place for a thriller pitting four-time Cincy champion Federer against four-time finalist Djokovic; the game's most dangerous attacking player against a defensive improvisor. Djokovic was bidding to become the fourth man since 1990 to capture Canada and Cincinnati in succession, but Federer came out in brilliant buzz-kill mode to snuff out the Serbian's hope and snap his 15-match hard-court winning streak.
The top seed brought the magic in the opening game, deadening a gorgeous backhand drop volley winner. A disengaged Djokovic dumped a double fault to face double-break point and scattered an inside-out forehand wide to drop serve for the first time in the tournament. Djokovic's streak of 31 consecutive service holds was snapped and his serving confidence looked shattered as he won just seven of 20 points played on his serve in the first set, failing to hold in all three service games.
Federer slammed an ace down the T and rifled a forehand winner down the line to consolidate at 15. A listless Djokovic spun a loopy second serve that strayed long to drop serve again. Federer struck successive aces, a slice serve winner and a side-spinning ace down the T for a 4-0 lead. The Wimbledon winner won 16 of the first 21 points before Djokovic answered with an ace. But a fourth double fault put Djokovic in another break-point bind and Federer pounced, whipping a forehand into the corner to break for 5-0.
It took Federer just 20 minutes to complete a first-set thrashing with a flat forehand winner down the line. Teasing Djokovic with the slice backhand and tormenting him with timely drop volleys, before blasting his iconic forehand into the corners, Federer served more effectively and hit 13 winners to 1 for his opponent in the shut-out set. Federer's array of spins and his skill at changing the height and depth of his shots while still straddling the baseline and taking the ball early can be downright disorientating. At times, Djokovic looked like a man who came home after a late-night to find all his furniture rearranged: The dimensions of the space hadn't changed but everything looked oddly out of place and unfamiliar.
To his credit, Djokovic began to turn his hips and shoulders into his forehand and strike that shot crosscourt with much more authority. At 4-all, 15-all, Djokovic snapped a biting serve, moved forward quickly and unloaded a crunching forehand winner crosscourt. It was his first winner of the second set. He hit another crosscourt forehand winner to hold at 30 for 5-4. In the ensuing game, Djokovic leaned into a backhand and buzzed the ball right back at Federer, who slipped the shot like a boxer bending back his torso to avoid a blow, surviving the brush for 5-all.
Federer took a 3-0 lead in the breaker, but Djokovic responded, smacking a forehand pass for 4-3. A bold Djokovic forehand down the line saved match point at 6-5; Djokovic earned a set point but paid the price for a timid lob off his strong backhand wing; Federer's smash made it 7-all. Fittingly, Federer closed with the serve-forehand combination that worked so well throughout the match.
"I will have to win this kind of matches against the biggest rivals — Roger, Andy and Rafa — in order to be on top of the men's game," Djokovic told CBS' Mary Joe Fernandez afterward. "I'm aware of that. It's been a busy couple of weeks for me so I'm happy the way I've played [on hard courts]...Obviously he was a better player today."
Suffering gut-wrenching losses to Djokovic in each of the last two U.S. Opens, Federer will arrive in New York empowered by his performance in taking the title without losing serve.
"I really expected myself to be broken," Federer told Fernandez. "I actually announced yesterday: 'Someone will be broken.' For sure, I thought it would be me and that it didn't happen is pretty amazing."