For the third time this year, a tennis tournament finished with two winners in their 30s as Roger Federer and Li Na lifted the aquamarine Cincinnati trophies in the last event before the US Open kicks off in New York next week.
Federer, who won Madrid and Wimbledon, with Serena Williams triumphing in the ladies' singles at both events too, survived a late surge from Novak Djokovic to defeat the Serb 6-0, 7-6(7), and become the first man to win five Cincinnati titles. The Swiss, who didn't drop serve all tournament, and who didn't even face a break point in the final, took full advantage of Djokovic's slow start to record the first bagel set from either player to the other in their 28 meetings and hung tough in the second to complete the win.
“I'm obviously very happy. If I remember correctly, this was the first win here I had also after I had twins, right? So it's great coming back here,” Federer said. “I've been able to win five. It's obviously incredible because I remember the first few here I struggled. Now looking back it's just unbelievable. Plus this was probably the best week ever here in Cincinnati for me never dropping my serve and all that stuff and beating Novak in the final. This was very sweet. No doubt about it.”
In so doing, the Wimbledon champion equals Rafael Nadal's record haul of 21 ATP Masters Series 1000 titles, and assures himself of the No.1 ranking, no matter what happens over the next two weeks in New York.
Djokovic, who has seemed somewhat absent in mind against his biggest rivals ever since Nadal denied him the calendar Slam at Roland Garros in May, admitted that his level in the opening set was not good enough to contend with Federer.
"He started very solid from serve," Djokovic said. "He was using it very efficiently and putting a lot pressure on my serve. Made a lot of double faults and didn't find my rhythm. Set was over in 20 minutes. I played better in the second. I thought it was very even, and then when I had the chances I didn't use them. I didn't step into the court, and he deserved to win."
Nevertheless, the world No.2 commented that he did not expect to come through the two pre-US Open hard court tournaments with just one loss, having won the title in Toronto last week, and he is virtually assured of winning the US Open Series, unless Sam Querrey wins the title in Winston-Salem this week.
Federer meanwhile enters the US Open with nine tournament wins since last November, and the favourite tag pinned firmly next to his RF logo.
In the women's event, it was to prove to be a case of worth the wait for Li Na, who claimed her first title since winning Roland Garros last year. Li, who admitted she had arrived in Cincinnati mentally and physically exhausted, had reached and lost three tournament finals to date this year, all three of them in three sets, the most recent one to Petra Kvitova in Montreal last week. She didn't want to do that again, she said.
"Last night I was thinking about how I was in three finals this year but never won a title," Li said. "So I was really hungry for the title today. Also, I was having lunch today and saw Roger after he won, having his photo taken - I really wanted to do the same."
Showing both sides of her effervescent character, Li battled back from a 3-6, 1-3 deficit against German Angelique Kerber, winning nine games in a row to pull off a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory.
"I tried to change something at the beginning of the second set but it didn't work, but I just kept trying and finally it worked," Li said. "I'm very happy to win this title and now I'll take two days off - I've played a lot of tennis these two weeks."
It was the perfect start to Li's coaching partnership with Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former mentor, whom Li met for the first time this week.
"It's really tough to find a balance between husband and coaching, so right now Carlos have the coach and husband just like change the grip, fix the drink, and send the racquet. That's all," Li said with her customary humour.
Kerber meanwhile, who was ranked just inside the top 100 this time last year, announced herself yet again as a serious threat on hard courts, having taken down Serena Williams earlier in the week. She'll be one to watch in New York.