Roger Federer picked up his biggest win in recent memory on Friday when he defeated world No. 2 Novak Djokovic at the Dubai Tennis Championships, but Federer needs to close the deal with a title in order to truly make progress.
The Swiss star dropped the first set to Djokovic and seemed destined to fall short yet again after dropping nine of the previous 12 meetings with his Serbian opponent. However, Federer made some adjustments and improved markedly as the match went on.
After winning the second set, Federer was clearly the better player in the deciding set, as ATP World Tour indicates that he cruised to a 6-2 triumph:
Knocking off a player like Djokovic in the semifinals is a major accomplishment, especially since Federer has struggled with him in recent years. It's important to note, though, that Fed hasn't won a title since taking the Gerry Weber Open in June of last year.
That was Federer's only singles title of 2013. In other words, Federer has tasted defeat far too often over the past couple of years.
Federer acquitted himself well at the Australian Open by reaching the semifinals with a win over Andy Murray before ultimately getting eliminated by Rafael Nadal. Adding the Djokovic win to the equation makes Federer look even stronger.
Sandra Harwitt of the Associated Press shared Federer's post-match comments, which revealed that he is focused on the future rather than dwelling on his past struggles.
"Right now I'm just happy that I was able to win the match," Federer said. "I don’t care so much about the head-to-heads. But it's nice to be in the finals here in Dubai again."
Neil Harman of The Times is one of many who seem to believe that beating Djokovic will springboard Federer to bigger and better things in 2014:
There is still nothing quite as wonderful as Federer in full flight. This would be a massive win for him for rest of the year.— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) February 28, 2014
If Federer loses to Tomas Berdych in the finals, however, it's difficult to imagine Federer viewing the tournament as a success. No. 6 Berdych is ranked higher than No. 8 Federer, but the expectation is that Fed should take care of business.
One person who doesn't feel that way is Berdych. According to Barry Flatman of the Sunday Times, Berdych thinks that he can win, although Federer wasn't particularly impressed by Berdych's confidence:
Q: Tomas said earlier he was glad that he's playing you in the final because he thinks he can beat you. Federer: Good for him— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) February 28, 2014
Berdych's comments suggest that Federer is no longer feared. He hasn't won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2012, and while beating Djokovic undoubtedly makes him look more dangerous, guys like Berdych aren't going to lack confidence against Federer until he proves that he can close the deal.
How vital is winning the Dubai title to Federer's success in 2014.
More than anything, Federer needs to prove it to himself. Federer never outwardly lacks confidence, but 2013 had to be an extremely difficult year for him. He is so used to winning on a consistent basis that going an entire year without a big title had to feel like five years in his mind.
Beating Berdych in the Dubai finals is a mental hurdle more than anything for Federer, and perhaps a Grand Slam title in 2014 will be possible if he can clear it.
Should Federer lose to Berdych, though, the doubt in the back of Federer's mind will still be very much present.
Federer is still licking his wounds after losing to players like Tommy Robredo and Sergiy Stakhovsky in big tournaments last year. Beating a player like Djokovic helps alleviate the sting to some degree, but Federer has work left to do.
Taking out Berdych wouldn't be the end of the journey by any means, but it can be argued that it is Federer's biggest match in recent memory based on how much confidence it would give him for the rest of 2014 and beyond.
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