After nearly nine months without a singles title, Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer ended the drought on Saturday by defeating Tomas Berdych 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the Dubai Tennis Championship final:
For Federer, it was his first title since winning the Gerry Weber Open in June 2013. He has suffered through plenty of disappointments since then, but this victory could give him the confidence that he needs to contend at this year's three remaining Grand Slams.
With the win, Federer avenged a loss to Berdych in the semifinals of this tournament last year. He also became the second man to win an ATP title in 14 consecutive seasons, per Infostrada Sports:
Federer and Berdych have been rivals for quite some time, and their final encounter was certainly bolstered by comments made leading up to the match, according to Barry Flatman of The Sunday Times:
Federer managed to upset world No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the Dubai semifinals, and a capacity crowd was on hand to witness Federer close the deal against Berdych, as seen in this Vine courtesy of Dubai Tennis Champs on Twitter:
Federer, who lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was the clear crowd favorite, and there were some rabid and dedicated fans in attendance, according to Tennis TV:
In recent tournaments, Federer has made a habit of getting off to slow starts before mounting a comeback. That was once again the case on Saturday, although things looked good in the opening stages of the match.
It certainly seemed as though the momentum that Federer gained by defeating Djokovic on Friday carried over early in the final against Berdych. After both men held serve to start the match, Fed dealt the first big blow of the contest.
Berdych struggled on his second service game, and Federer had little issue breaking him at love to take the lead, per Live Tennis:
Rather than folding after that miscue, however, Berdych proved that he had belief in his ability to take down the Swiss legend. Berdych didn't blink during Federer's ensuing service game, and he broke back to knot things up at 2-2:
Berdych followed that up with a clean hold of serve, which shifted the pressure to Federer for the first time in the match.
Fed is generally one of the most consistent servers in the game, but Berdych overwhelmed him with some big returns and broke the match open with a second break to make it 4-2, per Tim Clement of Sky Sports:
Berdych once again held serve to put Federer on the brink of losing the first set, although Fed was able to extend the set by holding serve in his own right.
While Berdych found himself up a break, he was definitely faced with some pressure to close it out on serve. Despite that, Berdych looked comfortable as he held yet again to take the first set 6-3.
According to Erik Gudris of USA Today, Federer's inability to win second-serve points is what led to his demise in the opening set:
After trading two holds of serve each in the second set, Federer found himself in a precarious position. Having already dropped the first set, Federer was once again broken by Berdych, and the Czech star took a 3-2 lead.
Federer challenged the call on break point, per Flatman, but it was little more than wishful thinking on his part:
Berdych likely knew that a hold of serve would make a comeback very difficult for Federer, and perhaps he allowed that to mess with his psyche. Federer rose to the occasion as he so often does to tie the second set at 3-3, and he was off and running from there.
Federer held his serve at love to take a 5-4 lead, and then managed to break Berdych at love as he won the set's final eight points and forced a decisive third, according to Adam Zagoria of SNY:
After holding serve to open the third set, Federer had Berdych dead to rights. Fed squandered three break points, though, and Berdych was able to stay in the match:
Federer was able to shake off the disappointment of letting that game slip away, and he held serve again to go up 2-1. Federer then made no mistake during Berdych's next service game and secured the break that had eluded him previously.
That gave Federer a commanding 3-1 lead, and he extended it with his third service hold game of the set.
Berdych answered with a hold of his own and then managed to earn two break points against Federer. Fed showed his true mettle, though, as he battled back and secured the hold to put Berdych on the brink at 5-2, according to Douglas Robson of USA Today:
Federer had two championship-point chances on Berdych's next serve, but he failed to close it out. Federer refused to let another opportunity go by the wayside, however, as he finished Berdych off on serve.
In many ways, Federer's comments after beating Djokovic proved prophetic. Federer was able to overcome a deficit to win that match, and he didn't waver when the match was on the line. Federer felt as though that part of his game had returned (per ATPWorldTour.com):
The (close moments) sometimes that decide matches, that's where you just need that extra confidence or that extra mental belief that you're going to win instead of lose. I think that's what I've got back right now. That's why I think I have been playing consistently well for some months again.
That was clearly the case on Saturday, and it bodes well for him moving forward. Federer hasn't won a Grand Slam title since taking the 2012 Wimbledon championship, but he is clearly playing his best tennis since then.
Losses to the likes of Tommy Robredo and Sergiy Stakhovsky in Grand Slams last year are firmly in the rear-view mirror, and Federer now has something that he can build off of.
There are no guarantees that Federer will add another major title to his trophy case due to stiff competition from Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and others, but the likelihood is now far greater after ending his skid in Dubai.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter