In an era largely dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, it hasn’t been easy to carve out new entries in the record books of men’s tennis. But Novak Djokovic found a way to set himself apart on Sunday, completing an elusive set by winning the Western & Southern Open for the first time and becoming the first man to triumph in singles at all nine Masters events on the ATP Tour.
“Definitely one of the most special moments in my career,” Djokovic said after beating Federer, 6-4, 6-4, in the final. “Making history of the sport that I truly love is a great privilege and honor, and something that I’ll be very proud of for the rest of my life.”
Djokovic shares the distinction of having won all four Grand Slams with Federer and Nadal, but sweeping the nine Masters event is a point of differentiation. Federer has won seven of the nine, lacking Monte Carlo and Rome; Nadal is missing Miami, Shanghai, and Paris.
Djokovic’s tally of Masters titles has stood at eight since 2013, when he won in Monte Carlo for the first time. He had made the final five times in Cincinnati, but lost twice to Andy Murray and three times to Federer. Djokovic said he was “pleased and proud and satisfied” to have come through in his sixth final here. “I kept on coming here, and I felt, to be honest, more pressure every time that I kept coming,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic stayed on the court well beyond the trophy ceremony, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans around the entire perimeter of the court. He then took the trophy to a balcony on the side of the stadium and posed once more for fans gathered below.
“The little baby is here for the first time,” he said of the large ceramic trophy, cradling it in his arms.
While still a step below the Grand Slam events in terms of prestige, the nine Masters events have been a fixture on tour in their current form since 1990. Three players — Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan and Daniel Nestor — have won doubles titles at each Masters event. The WTA tour, which uses a more convoluted nomenclature including distinctions between “Premier Mandatory,” “Premier 5,” and “Premier” levels, has not been able to enumerate an equivalent achievement.
In the women’s final earlier Sunday, 17th-ranked Kiki Bertens won the biggest title of her career, beating top-ranked Simona Halep, 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2. Halep had a match point in the second set tiebreaker, but Bertens fended it off and won the set. From there, Halep faded considerably, with cumulative fatigue from her title last week in Montreal and her four matches this week catching up to her.
Before this summer, Bertens had been almost exclusively a clay court specialist who struggled on grass and hard courts, winning all five of her career titles on clay. This summer, however, she has gone 8-0 against top-10 opponents on grass and hard courts, surfaces on which she had previously gone 0-11.
The win over Halep was Bertens’ fourth win over a top-10 player this week, following victories against No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, and No. 8 Petra Kvitova. “Winning on a surface that you didn’t really know coming into this year that it was possible — yeah, that’s a great feeling,” Bertens said.
Djokovic and Federer have battled it out across every surface over the years — Sunday was their 46th professional meeting — but they had not faced each other since the 2016 Australian Open. Federer called Djokovic’s set of Masters titles “an amazing accomplishment” and one that could only be correctly appreciated with time.
“At the end you’re going to judge it all together, bundle it up and say, ‘O.K., what was the coolest thing you ever did?’” Federer said. “And this might be it for Novak — besides winning all the Slams, and all the other things he’s done already.”
Federer has been more successful at this Masters event than at any other, winning seven times in Cincinnati. But on Sunday, his consistency was lacking and he couldn’t mount a steady challenge on Djokovic’s serve, only generating one break point in the match.
While acknowledging that he had struggled, Federer did not want to keep the focus on his own subpar play Sunday, instead directing the focus toward Djokovic’s breakthrough.
“Not about me missing second-serve returns,” Federer said. “It’s about him making history. That’s my opinion. We can go into whatever points you want, but I think that’s what the headline should be about. This is an amazing accomplishment, and I hope he’s extremely proud and extremely happy about this moment.”