It was a match in which Federer was often brilliant, but in which Djokovic was able to take advantage of occasional lapses. In the end, Djokovic’s consistency from the baseline and his opportunistic play were the difference.
At his best, Federer’s serve moves his opponent around with extra spin and precise placement. It makes for short games and easy holds. Federer dashed in front by winning the first three games. He won 12 of 14 points, including five winners, in games lasting two and a half minutes.
But Djokovic broke back two games later, sandwiched between holds. He dictated longer points and more of them, taking 15 of 24 in squaring the match up at three games apiece. Average game time was above four minutes.
The players traded breaks late in the first set. Djokovic’s serve was sharper and several times was able to gain easy service winners or short returns from Federer.
Djokovic served at 5-4 and set point, but Federer battled back. The key point seemed to be an instance in which Djokovic dove at a Federer blast on his backhand side. Djokovic landed hard on his elbow and there was concern that he had possibly injured his wrist, as he did not let go of his racket while falling. The ATP trainer administered to a gash near the elbow, and from then on the scrape was a non-factor.
In the tiebreaker, Federer saved his second set point with a spectacular get at the net on a ball Djokovic had seemingly guided past him. Federer, with his back almost entirely turned to the net, pulled a crosscourt winner that raised the roof.
Two points later, Djokovic closed out the first set and ran his tiebreak record to 17-12 for the 2012 season.
Federer and Djokovic locked into a 10-minute duel in the opening game. Both players sprayed several errors in trying to take advantage of his opponent up the line. In addition, both players looked to run the other past the corner either for a winner or to set up an easy advantage. Ultimately it was Federer who prevailed in the grinding game, which signaled a long fight ahead.
The players traded holds with Federer serving at 4-3, but Djokovic threatened to break. Federer saved the break with an ace. He also benefited from Djokovic’s error in missing the court on a net-clipped ball that all but floated for a seemingly easy putaway.
By this time, Federer had out-aced Djokovic 8-5, but was much more effective on second=serve points, creating more power and depth for holding onto more of these points. Conversely, Djokovic lost 11 of his first 14 second-serve points.
Federer also had produced more winners for a 27-16 advantage. He backed up 17 approaches to net with 13 winners. Djokovic had won only three winners on eight approaches.
But matches can turn on a dime. At 5-4 and 40-15, Federer unraveled with three straight errors. Djokoivic seemed to find greater resolve and finished his own break point by running Federer to his forehand corner to chase his streaking winner.
It was only a matter of minutes for Djokovic to set up match point at 5-6, 30-40. He closed out the match with a highlight sliding, backhand passing shot.
Djokovic let out a primal scream, though at a much more reduced level than his Australian Open victory over Rafael Nadal, but symbolic in bookending his big season.
Player of the Year
Unlike 2011, Djokovic finished strong with wins at Shanghai and London. He cruised into the No. 1 ranking to go with his titles at the Australian Open, Miami, Toronto, Shanghai and London.
He set himself up for pole position in 2013. He is the man the ATP will be chasing as the calendar turns.