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Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer Cincinnati Masters tennis live: Djokovic playing for place in history

Bettingpro Staff 23 Aug 2015

With their head-to-head poised at 20-20, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer face off in the final of the Cincinnati Masters on Sunday. Could fitness concerns for Djokovic see him denied the historic ‘Masters Slam’ by Federer? 

Novak Djokovic is chasing history, while Roger Federer is more concerned with boosting his chances for the next few weeks, but there is more than enough on the line for both players to make this Cincinnati Masters final a must-watch on Sunday.

What is at stake for world no. 1 Novak Djokovic? In terms of this season, Djokovic certainly doesn’t need the Cincinnati Masters title to boost his confidence or give him momentum coming into the fourth and final Grand Slam of the year, which begins on Monday 31 August: He’s won almost all of the significant events of the season so far, including Grand Slams at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and Masters Series titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome. 

But Djokovic could capture a quite incredible record if he betters his four previous runner-up finishes in Cincinnati: A title on Sunday will see him become the first man in history to win all nine Masters Series events over the course of his career. Following so close behind Federer and Rafael Nadal, there are few major records which Djokovic can break, but this would set an absurdly high and historical mark.

If Federer won, the title would merely be his seventh at the Cincinnati Masters, where the courts favour attacking tennis and where he has a ridiculously good record (37-8, not counting his wins this week). But a win would secure him a return to the world no. 2 ranking on Monday, from which Andy Murray briefly ousted him, and thus the no. 2 seeding at the US Open – meaning that he couldn’t face Djokovic until the final.

That could be crucial to Federer’s ongoing quest for an 18th Grand Slam title, and a seventh Cincinnati crown would be the perfect preparation for New York. And ‘perfect’, or at least nearly so, has been Federer’s watchword for the week. After a poor serving performance in his opening match, which was his first since losing in the Wimbledon final to Djokovic, Federer has been sharp as a tack in every match, including his semifinal against serious opposition: Murray.

The ghost of Wimbledon looms large here. Just like at Wimbledon, Murray came into the match on very strong form and played well, and just like at Wimbledon, a strong serving performance from Federer – he won 77% behind his first serve and 79% behind his second – elevated his game beyond Murray’s reach. Federer’s aggressive returning on second serves – he has been standing well inside the baseline and half-volleying them all week – was on full display and he was clinical behind both serve and return. Murray, one of the best returners in tennis, didn’t earn a single break point – just as at Wimbledon, he couldn’t get to break point on Federer’s serve after the opening game.

However, at Wimbledon Federer’s run of strong performances, which reached its apex against Murray, came crashing down against Djokovic, arguably the best returner in tennis bar none, and Federer lost his fourth straight match to Djokovic that day. Did Federer’s serve decline or was Djokovic returning better than Murray? It’s difficult to say, but it’s a cautionary example to bear in mind when considering Sunday’s Cincinnati final. 

We have grown accustomed to seeing Djokovic raise his level fairly dramatically as tournaments progress, and he will definitely need to against Federer. Dragged to three by David Goffin earlier in the week, Djokovic is certainly showing signs of wear and tear at this point in the season: He had an arm problem last week in Montreal and just when that seemed to be behind him, he seemed to strain a stomach muscle against Alexandr Dolgopolov in Saturday’s semifinals and although he took some medication and finished strongly against Dolgopolov for a 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 victory, his high numbers of unforced errors towards the beginning of the match will be a concern. 

Was it just a blip for Djokovic? Perhaps, but his tennis is not exactly shining at its brightest at the moment. The final is as difficult to call as the head-to-head (20-20) is evenly poised. Djokovic has won the last four against Federer and it seems crazy to pick against him, given how dominant he has been in 2015 – but he has never won a set in four Cincinnati finals, he has fitness concerns and he hasn’t been playing well. Federer has been playing superbly – but how will his serve hold up against Djokovic’s return, or his chip-and-charge ploy on Djokovic’s second serve? Against Djokovic’s superb and impenetrable defense, can he hold his game together?

There are more questions than easy-to-predict answers coming into this Cincinnati Masters final. But I will say this much: Sunday’s final represents the best opportunity Federer has had to beat Djokovic all season long. Will he take it?

Djokovic and Federer are scheduled on court in Cincinnati on Sunday at 1pm local/6pm BST 

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