Roger Federer continued his impressive year by adding another title, as the second-seeded legend defeated No. 6 David Ferrer 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 in a back-and-forth affair to win the 2014 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Sunday.
It was Federer's sixth title at the Cincinnati Masters, adding to an all-time record at the event that already belonged to him. Andy Murray is the only member of the Big Four with more than one title in Cincinnati.
Early signs indicated that Federer might cruise, but the narrative shifted with a dominant second set from the Spaniard. Federer lost all of his momentum and form, only to regain it in epic fashion and win the final set convincingly.
Sunday was Federer's eighth final of the season, and he shared a tidbit on why he's improved so much before the final.
"I'm playing much better [than] last year. I can move freely again," Federer told ESPN, via ATPWorldTour.com. "I'm happy the results show. It's more fun playing this way. Now I am playing the right away."
As one would expect from a championship match between two of the sport's best, points were tight early on. Breaks were hard to come by, with both players refusing to give up a serve through half of the opening set.
Recent history between the two, though, suggested Ferrer's success holding his serve would be much harder to come by against Federer, per ATPWorldTour.com's Josh Meiseles:
Ferrer has won over 60% of second serve points in 3 of 4 matches this week. In 15 meetings with Federer, did that just once. #cincytennis— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) August 17, 2014
The break chances eventually came, and they came for Federer. While the favorite easily won seemingly all of his games, he consistently brought Ferrer's service games to deuce.
It didn't take long for Federer to break through, breaking the Spaniard to go up 4-3. In the blink of an eye it was 5-3, and he ground out a tough break in the next game to seal the opening set.
The match was nearly blown open to start the second set. With Ferrer serving, Federer smelled blood and manufactured four break points only to lose them all.
Instead of Federer breaking early and ending things in a hurry, Ferrer made it clear that it was game on. He broke Federer once, then twice, then strolled out to a 5-0 second-set lead in a few short minutes.
The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg noted Ferrer's incredible streak:
After lots of break points in the opening game of second set, Federer has completely derailed. Ferrer has won 15 of last 17 points, up 5-0.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 17, 2014
While Federer was dominant in closing the first set, he was much more vulnerable in the second. He sent shots at the net, his serve was off and he was constantly beaten by Ferrer winners down the line.
The second set was a lost cause for Federer, but he was still battling, as Bloguin's Matt Zemek noted:
He won a single game in the second set, but ended up losing 6-1 to move onto a third and deciding set.
Federer had every reason to be in panic mode, but he remained as cool as ice. He regained his serve and hit pinpoint shots that weren't falling in the previous set. Ferrer wasn't able to hold on for long when Federer started clicking.
When Federer hit this beautiful drop shot to break, as captured by Sports Illustrated Tennis, it was pretty much over:
Roger Federer breaks with a great forehand return/drop shot combination. Leads 3-1. #cincytennis— SI Tennis (@SI_Tennis) August 17, 2014
There were reasons to worry for Federer supporters after the second set, but when crunch time came, he turned the switch just like that. Suddenly, his shots from the first set returned and he cruised late for his sixth Cincinnati title.
Daily Tennis Magazine's Chris Skelton noted Federer's impressive dominance in Cincinnati:
Federer is 9-2 vs. top-10 opponents in Cincinnati. He is 6-0 in Cincinnati finals (16-16 at other Masters 1000s).— Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87) August 17, 2014
Tennis journalist David Law pointed out that Federer looked too on top of his game to wonder about his fitness, despite many lengthy tournament runs:
Hope #Federer isn't leaving the tank a bit low on fuel with this fortnight of tennis. Probably worrying over nothing. Bloke looks 23 not 33.— DavidLaw (@DavidLawTennis) August 17, 2014
Winning the Cincinnati title was the goal on Sunday, but at the forefront of both players' minds is the upcoming U.S. Open. It starts up on Aug. 25 in New York City, and will be the year's final Grand Slam major.
More than two years separate Federer from his last Grand Slam title, but New York could prove to be his best chance in some time. Nadal is very much in doubt with a wrist injury, Djokovic has flamed out early in recent ATP events and Federer has Murray's number as of late. There are others, most of which Federer has taken care of recently in his ATP dominance.
The U.S. Open will be filled with serious contenders, but none are playing better tennis at the moment than Federer.