Squaring off five weeks after they collaborated in a thrilling Indian Wells title match—and eight years after their initial meeting in Monte Carlo—the rivals stayed in step for 10 games before Federer elevated his game and Djokovic deteriorated in battling both a wrist injury and the formidable No. 4 seed.
The streaking Serb took the court riding a 13-match winning streak and was playing for his fifth straight Masters final. But there was something unfamiliar—heavy white taping that stretched from his right wrist to his elbow, looking like a forearm pad NFL linemen wear when combating a nasty pass rush.
Creative running rallies and down-the-line strikes highlighted an entertaining first set. Federer navigated a deuce game to hold for 1-all then found his range, winning 12 of the next 13 points played on his serve.
When Djokovic lined a running forehand beyond the baseline at 4-4, Federer gained the first break point of the match. Overhitting his forehand, Federer slapped his thigh in frustration. After dodging the threat, Djokovic zapped a forehand winner down the line to hold for 5-4—then applied immediate pressure drilling a forehand off the baseline in handcuffing the Swiss for double break point.
Federer erased the first with a smash and saved the second with a drop shot that dragged Djokovic forward, setting up a stab forehand volley into the open court. He eventually held for 5-all after an electric exchange that prompted a roar from the crowd. Federer's fine net play and fluidity moving forward were assets throughout the match.
Racing out to a 40-0 lead in the 11th game, Djokovic ran into trouble with a pair of sliding errors. Federer swooped in for a backhand drop-volley winner laced with such severe sidespin the ball seemed to bounce sideways as if turning a corner. He earned the pivotal break and a 6-5 lead by knifing a slice backhand return that dislodged some clay near Djokovic's feet, coaxing an awkward forehand reply into net. Djokovic, whose practice time this week has been limited due to his wrist woes, spent some moments on the ensuing changeover clutching his right forearm.
Thumping an ace down the middle, Federer sealed the 48-minute first set. The three-time finalist moved beautifully, served 70 percent, and won all 11 trips to the net in an impressive opener as Djokovic faced the dual discomfort of his aching wrist and a sharp Federer.
The severity of Djokovic's predicament was reinforced in the third game of the second set. When Federer cracked a forehand up the line, Djokovic seemed to wince while flicking a tentative one-handed backhand reply that failed to find the court.
Stepping forward, Federer lashed a one-handed backhand winner down the line, breaking for 2-1. He then consolidated at love by curling an ace out wide. Djokovic's two-handed backhand is typically rock solid, but he managed only one backhand winner on the day. He dropped serve to fall behind 1-4 after missing the mark on a pair of two-handers.
Monte Carlo began amid speculation this clay-court season would build toward a seemingly inevitable Djokovic-Rafael Nadal climax at Roland Garros. But in the space of a day, the world's top two suddenly seem much more vulnerable given the sights of David Ferrer stinging eight-time champion Nadal in a surprising quarterfinal upset and Djokovic clutching that aching wrist. Afterward, the world No. 2 said he will take time out from tennis to treat his injury. Djokovic, who plans to undergo an MRI tomorrow, does not know how long he will be sidelined, but said it should not require surgery.
Wrapping up the win in one hour, 14 minutes, Federer will face Davis Cup teammate Stanislas Wawrinka in an all-Swiss final with the nation's No. 1 ranking on the line. Playing for his first Monte Carlo title, Federer has won 13 of 14 meetings with his sometime doubles partner, with Wawrinka's lone win coming in Monte Carlo five years ago. It's also the first Monte Carlo final featuring a pair of one-handed backhands since 2001 when Gustavo Kuerten swept Moroccan magician Hicham Arazi, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.