World # 2 Roger Federer was in fine form on Sunday, dispatching the new and much improved American Mardy Fish, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-4 for his 17th career Masters shield, and for his 63rd career title. Fish didn’t make it easy for Roger, who didn’t break Fish’s serve until the 9th game of the third set. But Federer seemed to have his hardcourt game going strong, as he only allowed 1 break chance in the match, which he saved. Federer was not broken in the match, and suffered only one break all week in Cincinnati, which came in Friday’s straight set win over Nikolay Davydenko.
For Federer, the two week period which included him making the finals in Toronto and Cincinnati consecutively, was the first time that Roger made back to back Masters finals since 2007, when he also lost in the finals of the Rogers Cup (to Novak Djokovic) and then won Cincinnati, taking out James Blake in the final. Federer takes the trophy and a check for $443,ooo–only his 2nd tournament victory of the year, his first since winning his 4th Australian title, and record 16th overall major over Andy Murray in straight sets at the beginning of the year.
In addition to successfully defending his rankings points from last year in Cincinnati, Federer took home his 4th career Cincinnati title (05, 07, 09, 10)–usually a good sign heading into The Open. Federer flashed the impressive footwork off both wings while incorporating a more aggressive style that saw him get to the net 9 times in the matches first 3 games. Federer finished off many points at the net. At one point he served and volleyed on consecutive points–a real rarity in today’s game, and Roger finished many points at the net even on his return games.
For Mardy Fish, the match must have brought back memories, as for much of the match he and Roger seemed destined for 3 trie-breakers, which is how Fish fell in the finals here at Cincinnati in 2003 to good buddy Andy Roddick, who went on to win his first ever major weeks later in Flushing. Fish is now 0-3 in Masters finals (Cincinnati, 03, 1o, Indian Wells, 08), and has run his record to 5-11 in career finals. But overall, the week was a great success for Fish, easily America’s best male singles player right now. Fish took out both Andy Murray and Andy Roddick on his way to the finals this week. Since Queens Club, Fish has made 4 singles finals, two coming on grass, and even won the Farmers Classic doubles title with doubles ace Mark Knowles. Fish also won the singles titles in Newport and Atlanta to kick off the American summer season.
Fish served big, smashing 18 aces, but peculiarly, did not hit a winner on his forehand until well into the 2nd set. At one point, Federer held a 19-0 edge in forehand winners, but Fish kept the match tight, and his nose in front for much of the way, by keeping a lot of balls in play. Federer came in very motivated to beat Fish, citing his memory of their last encounter, when Fish beat Roger 6-2, 6-3 in the semi-finals of Indian Wells in 2008. Roger complimented Fish’s play before the match, calling Fish a real threat coming into The Open because of his new found fitness and ability to attack the net, which most players lack. Federer also said that Fish had great hands and extremely good coordination, whether it be on his backhand side, up at net, or even on the golf course.
It almost sounded like the two may be golf buddies. For Federer, the sluggish footwork that lost him last week’s title in Toronto, and which had Federer fans quite worried, was exceptional in Saturday night’s easy win over Baghdatis, and yesterday. Federer seems to be playing as well as right now as he did at the Australian Open, a good sign for those hoping he comes out on top at The Open, where he can collect his 17th major title. Federer will be looking for his 7th consecutive finals appearance in Flushing, his 6th US Open title, and his 10th hardcourt major victory.
Federer was coached by Swiss Davis Cup Captain Severin Luthi this week, but the influence of new coach Paul Annacone, who was not present, was present. Federer looked exremely fresh, and decisive in his ventures to the net. He also snapped off several one handed backhands down the line that took fish out of the play, and frankly, that made you say “Ooh.” Federer attacked behind the slice return quite frequently, what we call the “Chip and Charge”–a great play for Roger, blessed with the best hands in the game, and one that shows the direct bearing of Annacone on Federer’s game. The beauty of the play is that win or lose, it’s over quickly, and can save Federer from expending a lot of needless energy in points.
The title was Federer’s 44th career hardcourt win. With the win, Federer also finished tied for 1st in the US Open Olympus Series with Mardy Fish and Andy Murray, winning the series that could substantially bolster his summer earnings if he wins the US Open for the 2nd consecutive time and for the fourth time in his career.