There is no stopping Nole at the moment. Novak Djokovic – Nole to his friends – crushed Roger Federerfor the second time in four weeks here last night to claim his third successive title at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. Having brushed the world No 2 aside in straight sets en route to victory at last month's Australian Open, Djokovic repeatedthe feat here, winning 6-3 6-3 in only 71 minutes.
While Federer maintains a slender lead over Djokovic in the world rankings, it is now looking only a matter of time before the 23-year-old Serb overhauls him. Djokovic has won 14 matches in succession – the best run of his career – since losing to Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
Twenty-four hours after he had struggled to beat Tomas Berdych, playing what he called his worst match of the year, Djokovic looked at the top of his game, particularly on his serve. This used to be one of the less damaging parts of his armoury, but is now one of his key weapons. In the first set he dropped only four points on serve, in the second he put all but three of his first serves in court.
Federer, meanwhile, made far too many mistakes. The Swiss has always shanked a fair percentage of his shots – the price he pays for his phenomenal racket-head speed – but he could ill afford to hand Djokovic so many free points.
"I rose to the occasion," Djokovic said afterwards. "I was aware of the challenge I would face on the court and I was aware that I needed to be on top of my game in order to beat Roger. The focus was there."
The match was played in front of an enthusiastic capacity 5,000 crowd, which included Harry Redknapp, whose Tottenham Hotspur team did not have a match over the weekend. While Djokovic had plenty of supportfrom flag-waving Serbs, there was no doubt whom the majority of the spectators were backing. Federer, who has won this title four times, has an apartment here and uses Dubai as his warm-weather training base.
Djokovic, however, took command from the third game as Federer dropped serve with three successive errors. The Swiss clung on two games later, saving two break points, but was broken again when he served at3-5, Djokovic taking the set with a thumping cross-court backhand.
The only time the Swiss threatened was early in the second set, as he broke to lead 2-1 and then held to go 3-1 up. But he did not win another game. Djokovic, returning serve superbly, broke to level at 3-3 and again two games later before serving out for victory, Federer hitting a forehand wide on the first match-point.
The former world No 1 was philosophical in defeat. "I can't play great every time," he said. "I tried tonight, but it just didn't really happen for me."