Roger Federer owns a home in Dubai, but looked like a man locked out of the house, wandering around the baseline in frustration while Tomas Berdych displaced the Swiss with deep drives and disruptive returns.
Down a set and a break, Federer found his serve, reclaimed the real estate in the center of the court, and roared back in issuing an eviction notice to the third-seeded Czech. Federer reeled off 10 of the final 14 games in a rousing rally for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory to capture his record sixth Dubai title.
It is Federer’s first championship since he claimed his sixth Halle title last June and stands as a milestone moment: The former No. 1 won his 78th career title, surpassing John McEnroe for third place on the all-time list, behind Jimmy Connors (109) and Ivan Lendl (94).
A shared strategy was evident in the early stages: Both men tried to punish the opponent’s backhand. Federer drove a deep return down the middle, handcuffing the Czech for triple break point. When Berdych netted a forehand, Federer broke at love for a 2-1 lead. Undaunted, Berdych applied pressure with his forehand, breaking back immediately when Federer’s forehand down the line strayed wide. Jamming a backhand return into the body for double-break point, Berdych blasted a diagonal forehand return that forced Federer to net an off-balance backhand off his back foot, ecuring a second break for 4-2. He backed up the break, winning his fourth straight game to extend the lead to 5-2 before closing the first set in 33 minutes as Federer suffered a double whammy of misery: He landed just 35 percent of his first serves and won only four of 13 points on his second serve.
Summoning flashes of magic, Federer curled a running forehand winner down the line in the third game of second set and ripped a pair of aces to save break points in the fifth game. But Berdych continued to torment the 17-time Grand Slam champion’s second serve and when the Swiss scattered an inside-out forehand wide, Berdych was in charge, up a set and 3-2. Wife Mirka clapped encouragingly from the box as Federer threw down a leaping smash to reach double break point in the ensuing game. The crowd erupted in chants of “Roger! Roger!” when Federer broke back for 3-3. The fourth seed answered the call, picking up a slick half-volley drop shot winner with the ease of a man plucking a flower from a garden. That dazzle sealed a 74-second love hold as Federer nosed in front 4-3. Sliding another ace, he extended the lead to 5-4 then escalated his attack. A backhand volley winner brought him to triple set point; Federer closed the 39-minute second set on a roll, winning his eighth straight point to level the match.
Tension ratcheted up in the decider as both men earned early break points. When Federer followed a forehand forward to knock off a volley, he had won 15 of the last 16 points to earn triple break point. Big Berd denied the threat, erasing all three break points and eventually firing a forehand winner for 1-all. Moving more fluidly and stepping into the court more frequently, Federer, who won 12 of 16 trips to net, snatched a 15-shot rally to break for 3-1 in the decider as Berdych’s shoulder sagged. Federer fought off a pair of break points at 15-40 — the first on a forehand winner and second on a Berdych error — to navigate a challenging hold for 5-2.
Berdych, who saved three match points in subduing Federer in the 2013 Dubai semifinals, fought off two championship points to hold for 3-5 and force Federer to serve it out. He finished with a fist pump while some fans traded high-fives in celebration. Snapping Berdych’s 11-match win streak and raising his record to 4-1 against Top 10 opponents this year, Federer has already matched his total Top 10 wins of 2013 (4-10). The father of twins — with another child on the way — is feeling right at home on court these days.
“I train a lot here throughout the last few years; it’s definitely helped me become heat-tough over the years because summer can be brutal,” Federer told TennisTV.com's David Mercer afterward. “It’s always nice to be here and to do something very significant. I couldn’t be more happy that this week turned out the way it did.”