DUBAI // The king is dead, long live the king.
Novak Djokovic was crowned undisputed king of the desert last night after completing a memorable treble of titles at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and walking away with the lion’s share of the $1.6 million (Dh5.9m) prize purse.
However, it was the uncharacteristically poor performance of his opponent that caught the eye.
Roger Federer was the only player to previously win three successive titles at the Aviation Club. He dominated from 2003 to 2005, and added a fourth title in 2007.
He missed the past two tournaments through injury and ill health, but given his previous successes here, the Swiss maestro arrived in a confident mood ahead of the final.
However, Federer’s era of domination appears to be dissipating. He fell last night in straight sets, Djokovic dispatching him 6-3, 6-3.
The 23-year-old Serb, who won the Australian Open last month and remains undefeated this season, described his performance in Friday’s sluggish semi-final victory over Tomas Berdych as “a catastrophe”.
But he appeared a different proposition altogether yesterday evening under the floodlights of a heaving Centre Court, which included Harry Redknapp, the football manager who has brought his Tottenham Hotspur side to the emirate for a week’s warm-weather training.
Djokovic overpowered the tournament’s top seed in the first set, before fighting back from 1-3 down in the second as his opponent struggled with his timing and rhythm.
Federer produced several unforced errors – a rare sight in his repertoire – and when his return found the net while facing championship-point, his chin fell to his collarbone as he trudged up to meet Djokovic, who was waiting to greet him with a sympathetic pat on the back. “Sorry, old chum.”
“I guess I rose to the occasion,” Djokovic said.
“I was aware of the challenge that was awaiting me on court, I was aware of the fact it’s a great challenge playing Roger and that I had to be at the top of my game if I was going to win.”
For the first time since 2002, Federer had come into the season without holding a major title. That did not change in Melbourne after he suffered a straight-sets defeat to Djokovic in the semis of the Australian Open and, on last night’s showing, he has come no closer to working out how to deal with his opponent’s newly rediscovered serve.
“I have been working really hard on this shot,” Djokovic said. “If I want to play well and have a chance to win against the best players I have to serve well. That wasn’t always the case in the past.
“I had some trouble with the shoulder and I just got into a bad habit; a different motion to what was working for me quite well in 2008 and 2009. But it’s behind me: now I have my serve back. I knew it was all mental and I needed to believe that it was going to come back. And it did.”
Federer’s mental strength has always been one of his biggest assets. He demonstrated in Melbourne that he still has it, at age 29, when he threw away a two-set lead to Gilles Simon in the second round only to regain his composure to take the final set 6-3. But there is little doubt that he lacked the speed of feet and thought last night.
“I feel like I need more practice; just a little bit here and there,” Federer said.
“Even though I feel like I’ve played enough tennis here in terms of points, I do feel like my game needs a bit of practice. I haven’t had that much after all.”
Djokovic refused to concede his opponent’s best days are behind him, instead choosing to put Federer’s below-par performance down to “one of those days”.
“He made a lot of unforced errors and it was obvious he wasn’t feeling good on the court,” Djokovic said. “You have those days; it’s normal, even for somebody like him who’s always playing so well in the later stages of tournaments. It happens.”