Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic renew their rivalry in Cincinnati final

A lot has changed since Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic last met two years ago, with both great rivals playing at their best amidst separate comebacks.

The last time that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic met, the Serb was at the tail end of his dominant era in tennis, where he beat the Swiss at the 2016 Australian Open. Djokovic followed that victory with a win over Andy Murray at the French Open, collecting grand slams number 11 and 12, before he left the game to nurse a serious elbow injury and deal with his crisis in form. While he was out, he watched on the sidelines as both Federer and Rafael Nadal took advantage of his absence and came back with vengeance in 2017, collecting all the big prizes.

But 2018 is different. The 31-year-old Serb took a bit longer to hit his stride, with bumps along the way, going out early in several tournaments, showing flashes of the old Djokovic in others, until his comeback was cemented with his 13th grand slam at Wimbledon this year, on Federer’s grass turf.

“When they asked me in Indian Wells and Miami to judge Novak, I was, like, ‘It’s not real Novak’, then,” Federer said about Djokovic’s results earlier in the year. “He was just coming back, and he came back too soon. Same at the Australian Open. That one wasn’t quite the 100 percent Novak we know he can be.”

But Fed’s aware that the Djokovic he will be dealing with at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, OH on Sunday will be a different animal.

“A lot has happened since [our last meeting] with injuries, both of us have been fighting, and we both came back strong again,” Federer added.

The match on Sunday is an important indicator of their close rivalry.

“So I think that’s what’s nice about this time around with Novak,” said the 37-year-old Federer. “There’s a lot riding again on the match. It’s great to refresh our rivalry that we’ve had going on for so many years now. It’s so nice to see him back having won Wimbledon and now back in another final for him in Cincinnati.

“I think it’s going to be very exciting.”

Novak Djokovic has never won in Cincinnati, even during his dominant years. He’s had five final chances and has always come up short. It’s the only Masters 1000 he doesn’t own. If he wins on Sunday, he will be the only player to have won all Masters 1000s, grand slams, and ATP Finals, setting him above Federer and Nadal in this statistic.

But the Ohio tournament is one of the few places Federer has consistently beaten Nole during his high period. Even though the Serb owns most of their recent head-to-head victories, Cincinnati has always been the exception. The Swiss beat him there in the 2015 final and is coming into the Sunday match more refreshed than the 13-time slam champion. Fed has won most of his matches in Cincinnati in two sets, and didn’t have to go the distance in his semifinal win over David Goffin, who retired early into the second set. Djokovic had a much harder semifinal win over Marin Cilic on Saturday, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Between the two, the odds favor Federer, having beaten Djokovic in three Cincinnati finals (2009, 2012, 2015).

But Djokovic will be entering the final hungry to achieve a huge statistic in his tennis story. A win at the Western and Southern would certainly put him in excellent standing heading to the U.S. Open slam, where he is eyeing his 14th major.

But first he’ll have to get through the 20-time slam champion, who has his sights set on his eighth title in Cincinnati, and his 99th ATP title. A win here for Federer would equal his tally of Wimbledon trophies and put him closer to matching Jimmy Connors’ record of ATP titles (109). If Federer gets to a 100th ATP victory, it will put him and Connors in a very exclusive 100+ ATP club.

A win over Novak Djokovic would continue to solidify Federer as the greatest of all time. Fed reset the rivalry with Rafa last year with several wins over his great rival, evening up their head-to-head a bit, but most importantly surpassing the Spaniard in all surfaces except clay. Federer has now beaten the world No. 1 five times in a row, including the Shanghai, Miami, and Indian Wells Masters as well as the Australian Open finals last year. Federer is looking for a similar turnaround with Djokovic. A win over him on Sunday would make their head-to-head dead even, at 23 each on their 46th matchup.

Both players have had a bumpy year, despite their one slam wins each in 2018—Australia for the Swiss and Wimbledon for the Serb. Federer and Djokovic will be looking for a kick start victory on Sunday to give them a boost of success when they embark upon Flushing Meadows. Suffice it to say, the final in Cincinnati will be a fascinating development in the Federer-Djokovic rivalry.

Get your popcorn ready for this one, folks. The men’s final takes place at 4:00 p. m., viewable on ESPN2.