DUBAI - Roger Federer followed his best win in 18 months by taking his first title in nine months with a revenge victory over Tomas Berdych in Saturday's final of the Dubai Open. Federer came from behind to beat world number two Novak Djokovic on Friday. Now he did the same against Berdych, the man who saved two match points against him in last year's semi-finals, winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to claim a sixth title in the UAE.
It was never a great final, for the error count was too high, but it became increasingly dramatic as the game's best known player worked his way back into it against one of the sport's most dangerous hitters. Federer was a set and a break down and appeared to be out of it but managed to find some good returns at last, just as the match was slipping away, and broke back at once. Then his standard went up.
It extended Federer's record of Dubai titles to six, and moved him above John McEnroe's total of 77 titles into third place in the all-time title list. Only Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors remain above the Swiss. Most of all it helped the Grand Slam record-holder to maintain his belief that even at 32, he has another major in him. "It's the mental belief that you're gonna win instead of losing -- I think that's what I got back right now," said Federer, after lifting his first trophy since Halle in June last year. While he had been brilliant in the second half of the match against Djokovic, Federer was more circumspect about the tennis which had got him over the line against Berdych. "He should have brought it home," Federer admitted. "I got a little lucky. I just fought well and I couldn't be more happy with the outcome.
How had he escaped from peril in the second set? "I just stand on the baseline, try to hit a few good shots, hope Tomas doesn't keep hitting big serves, and hope you get a little lucky," he said. "I was able to stay calm and once I got back on even terms I started to play better. I really enjoy playing against Tomas, who is a great player and has had a great streak."
This was a reference to Berdych's 11 successive wins which is the longest streak of his career. But he will be very disappointed to have lost three of his next five service games from 3-2 up in the second set, and again questions will be raised about the Czech's mental capacity to make the best of his considerable talent. Federer's patchy start happened despite being donated an early break for a 2-1 lead by four successive driving errors from Berdych. After it, he dropped serve twice without looking likely to make a break back.
Berdych's first serve and a few of his forehand blows were delivered as fast as any in the game, but still Federer's timing was nowhere near the sharpness it had been in the second half of his win 24 hours previously. Early in the second set he stood with hands on hips, staring in frustration at another mistimed forehand, just when he needed to make a push to turn the match around.
Berdych began to make further serious progress by breaking Federer for a 3-2 lead, and had he consolidated that the match might have been over quickly. Instead Federer found a bit of magic at last, breaking back with a thunderous forehand, holding with a delicate little half-volley drop shot, then holding to love with his best game of the match, and forcing Berdych to serve to save the set.
He couldn't. Instead he produced his most inhibited game of the match, dropping serve to love, with Federer now rampaging around, launching great drives. The third set saw Federer much more in the ascendant. He nearly broke for 2-0, did break for 3-1, and further eroded Berdych's self-belief with a tremendous recovery from 15-40 down on his serve, which got him to 5-2. Berdych did well to save two match points on his own serve, which might briefly have reminded Federer of what happened last year. However, the Swiss favourite was more solid in closing out his advantage than the Czech nearly man, and at the death there were no wobbles.