Djokovic Turns Defense Into Offense to Dethrone Federer

Under pressure after being pulled out wide by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic slid across the baseline to crack a backhand winner and secure his second season-ending tennis championship.

The shot gave the top-ranked Serb a 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 win against defending champion Federer in last night’s title match at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

“It’s the best way to finish the match, with a passing shot, one of my favorite shots,” Djokovic told reporters after winning the eight-man event. “I tried to stay in the rally and get more aggressive in that rally. But he came in. That was the only space left for me to make a passing shot, and I made it.”

Throughout the two hour, 15-minute match, Djokovic turned defense into attack. He came back from a break down in both sets, and saved two set points at the end of the second set.

“Even in defense, he stays somewhat offensive,” Federer, a record six-time winner of the Tour Finals, told reporters. “It’s what separates him from the rest a little bit.”

Switzerland’s Federer produced 30 winners and 42 unforced errors, compared with 19 and 29 from Djokovic.

Federer raced to a 3-0 lead before Djokovic got back into the match. The Serb failed to serve out the set at 5-4, netting a forehand on set point.

Federer saved a second set point at 5-6 down in the tie- breaker, chasing down a pick-up at the net by Djokovic to hit a forehand pass almost behind his back. He screamed as the crowd cheered “Roger, Roger.” A wide backhand gave Djokovic a third set point, which he converted with a forehand winner.

‘Hang in’

“I was just trying to hang in there,” said Djokovic, who beat Federer in two U.S. Open semifinals after saving match points. “It’s not the first time that Roger starts against me so well.”

Federer broke serve in the opening game of the second set. Rushing to the net to keep the points short against one of the game’s best retrievers, Federer appeared to have regained the momentum as he served for the set at 5-4. Instead, he failed to convert two set points with two forehand errors and got broken. Serving to stay in the match, Federer dropped serve for the fourth time to hand Djokovic his 75th win of the season.

“I knew that he’s going to come in and really have nothing to lose, playing his game,” Djokovic said. “So I tried to stay focused and be patient in the rallies in a way and wait for my chance.”

Djokovic, 25, ends the season the way he began it: with a title. He secured his fifth major championship at the Australian Open in January following a breakthrough 2011, when he won three Grand Slam tournaments, got to No. 1 and didn’t lose a match until June.

No. 1 Player

Djokovic receives $1.76 million for winning the ATP Finals and going unbeaten through the tournament, which starts with a round-robin format. He’ll finish the season as the No. 1 player in the world for the second straight year.

Although the Belgrade native didn’t achieve his two main goals this season -- winning the French Open and the Olympic gold medal -- he ends 2012 with six titles and more match wins than anyone else on the men’s tour.

Djokovic said he’ll travel to Brazil this week to play a few exhibitions, before going on vacation.

“Two-and-a-half weeks completely off in a very tropical, very beautiful place with no racket, no nothing, no tennis,” he said.

Federer, 31, still leads Djokovic 16-13 in career meetings in a rivalry that began on the clay of Monte Carlo in 2006. Last night’s victory put Djokovic 3-2 up this season.

“I thought it was a good match,” Federer said. “It was great intensity, good crowd. So it was fun playing.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh at London’s O2 arena through the London sports desk at drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser in London at celser@bloomberg.net

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