Like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic made a somewhat slow start in Cincinnati, winning one of the opening four matches in Ohio. That all changed in 2008 when he reached the final for the first time, losing in two tie breaks to Andy Murray.
It was hard to believe back then that one of the best players on hard courts of all time will struggle so much to claim the Cincinnati crown, but it seemed he was not destined to lift that trophy, losing other four finals in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015, when he competed there for the last time.
Three years after a 7-6, 6-3 final loss to Roger, Novak made another final at his most desired Masters 1000 event in 2018. As it turned out, the sixth final was crucial for him, outplaying the seven-time champion Federer 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 20 minutes to grab the crown and achieve the ultimate tennis record as the first player with all nine Masters 1000 trophies!
With the ATP Finals, all four Majors and the Davis Cup crown already in his collection, Novak had cemented his status as one of the greatest players of all time, setting the record that will hardly be repeated anytime soon.
Both players struggled that week but were the deserved finalists, battling with their rivals and the rain to set up the 46th meeting, the first since the Australian Open in 2016. It was the 31st Masters 1000 crown for Novak, and the first since Toronto 2016, one of the most beloved ones as it earned a Career Golden Masters for him after so many finals lost in Cincinnati, including three versus Roger.
The main elements in Novak's triumph were his fantastic return, the overall performance on serve and domination from the baseline and shortest rallies, where Federer should have had the advantage. Novak lost 14 points in ten service games, getting broken from Roger's only break chance.
In 2018, Novak Djokovic claimed the ninth different Masters 1000 trophy.
On the other hand, Djokovic tamed Federer's serve beautifully, returning as many balls as possible to leave the Swiss with no free points and shifting the battlefield to his familiar ground on the baseline.
Roger lost 42% of the points behind the initial shot to suffer three breaks from Novak's six opportunities, unable to impose his strokes or keep the rallies on his racquet. Djokovic had 12 winners and 16 unforced errors, much better than Federer's 22-39 ratio.
The Swiss sprayed too many forehand errors and lost ground entirely in the shortest exchanges up to four strokes where Novak had a 49-35 advantage, which gave him the title. A backhand down the line winner gave Novak a break chance already in the opening game, but Roger saved it with a service winner to avoid an early setback, erasing the second with an ace to get his name on the scoreboard.
Djokovic held at love in the second game with a service winner, and both players served well in the next four games to reach 3-3 after 20 minutes. Roger was unbroken in Cincinnati since the 2014 final, and Novak finally ended his impressive streak with a break in game seven after two game points squandered by the Swiss.
The Serb stayed in the final point with an outstanding defense and earned a break after Federer's terrible forehand. Novak confirmed the advantage with four service winners in game eight, and the opener was in his hands after a service winner in game ten, dropping just four points in his games in the entire set and looking strong to break the spell and lift the elusive crown.
Federer made a significant hold at the start of the second set and won four consecutive points on the return in game two to open up a 2-0 lead following Djokovic's double fault. It was not to be for Roger, though, as he got broken in the next game after another wild forehand that finished far from the court.
A hold at love leveled the score at 2-2 for Novak, and he made a crucial move with a forehand down the line winner in game seven that sent him 4-3 up, having to serve well in the remaining two service games to clinch the title.
Roger's backhand error in game ten gave Novak the championship point. He converted it after another poor forehand from Roger to complete his Masters 1000 collection and write another chapter of tennis history.