DUBAI: Roger Federer showed an enterprising new side to his game as he beat Novak Djokovic for the first time in 18 months and ended the top seed’s defense of the Dubai Open title.
The record 17-time Grand Slam title winner beat the six-time major champion 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, turning the match around not only with scintillating groundstroke hitting but with some bold approaches to the net.
Djokovic looked the more likely winner when he got within a point of going a break up in the fifth game of the second set, but a couple of minutes later came a short rain delay which halted his momentum.
After that Federer’s game rose to much higher levels, and his increasing willingness to come forward, which earned him 11 points from 17 net forays, seemed to bear the stamp of his new coach, Stefan Edberg.
“There was a buzz out there tonight, and I was able to enjoy myself with that crowd,” five-time Dubai champion Federer said on court.
“For some reason I had a tough start but the crowd kept pushing me on and I played well. It’s a quick court so I am always trying to be aggressive. I wish I could do Stefan’s volleys, but I work with what I have.”
Later the 32-year-old was asked when he might be back to his best again, after a difficult 2013.
“I hope it’s now,” he said. “It’s all happening. Beating Novak on the hard courts here in Dubai, it’s tough. This is a big step in the right direction for me. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Federer also improved what he calls his transition game—the strokes and timing which facilitate his movement to the forecourt—and from late in the second set he generated a spell of six winning games out of seven.
Djokovic may have suffered from lack of match practice—this was only his third match since losing his Australian Open title more than five weeks ago, and although he played some great counter-hitting rallies he never looked like stopping Federer when he was on a roll.