It is the pairing we have all been waiting for and Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg has ‘dual-ly’ delivered.
Like last year, which saw Federer and Rafael Nadal unforgettably star on the same side of the net, two of the all-time greats will again put on a one-off spectacle under the lights of the United Center against Team World.
Organisers of the event, played in honour of living legend Rod Laver, who was integral in the early part of the sport’s Open Era, in which players became professional, have been savvy with their marketing, media and promotion work.
And a Federer-Djokovic doubles pairing is the ultimate ticket to kick-off the Davis Cup-style event.
With a collection of 34 Grand Slam singles titles between them (Federer – 20; Djokovic now 14 following back-to-back Wimbledon and US Open triumphs), there has always been plenty of respect between the two players, but it is fair to say they have never been the closest or certainly the best of friends.
The Serbian’s former coach Boris Becker said the two players “don’t really like each other” in his 2016 book Wimbledon: My Life and Career at the All England Club, and while Federer played those claims and others down, their rivalry has been intense and not enjoyed the same pleasantries as Federer and Nadal have experienced on and off the court.
That said, it is difficult to get along just fine in an individual sport like tennis where the stakes are high and meetings are often career defining.
Behind the jokes, laughter and friendship we have seen between Federer and Djokovic in the past couple of days, their overall rivalry has been quite the opposite and very intense. Certainly, in essence, Djokovic has been able to get into Federer’s head more often than not and probably inflict some of his most painful losses.
Djokovic won the last of their 46 meetings in August’s Cincinnati Masters final, helping him to build a 24-22 winning head-to-head.
Thirteen of those victories have come in finals, to Federer’s six, inclusive of three Grand Slam final victories for the Serb (Wimbledon 2014 and 2015, US Open 2015) compared to the Swiss’s solitary title at the 2007 US Open.
The substance to these encounters has been sublime, with Federer’s mix of attacking play, domineering forehand and classical style contrasting to Djokovic’s brickwall return, consistency to get balls back and staying power in the big points.
There is no doubt this has been the most eye-catching match-up out of all the ‘Big 4’ clashes, which is why it will be intriguing to see how two right-handers balance out tactically on the same side of the net.
Nadal and Federer had their problems last year, with the notable one being when the latter was forced to duck and get out of the way after the Spaniard had called for an overhead.
Nevertheless, they clung on for a 6-4, 1-6, 10-5 triumph against Jack Sock and Sam Querrey. Sock will again be on the other side of the posts to Federer this time around but will have the giant Kevin Anderson, who Djokovic defeated in this year’s Wimbledon final, on his side.
Federer and Djokovic know each other’s games inside out but there is no doubt they will sit with skipper Borg and formulate tactical plans given they have never played in the doubles area together before.
It is new terrority but fascinating new ground all the same. Let the games begin.
Defending champion Sloane Stephens is the sole remaining top-six seed left in the women’s singles at the US Open after a day of upsets at Flushing Meadows.
Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and fifth seed Petra Kvitova both fell on Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is rapidly establishing itself as a graveyard of champions, while sixth seed Caroline Garcia also lost.
Kvitova was the last victim of the day, the two-time Wimbledon champion overpowered by the hottest player of the moment: 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka.
The Belarusian was not ranked highly enough to get into the tournament 12 months ago but has soared into the top 20 and won her first WTA Tour title in New Haven on the eve of the tournament.
She has now won 12 of her last 13 matches, and Sabalenka said: “I am so happy with that. I didn’t say to myself, ‘I have to win this 6-1′. I was like,’Keep fighting, keep going’. Everything was going in.”
Kvitova struggled on serve, hitting 10 double faults, but praised Sabalenka, saying: “I had my chances in the first set. I took it then I lost it again then she took it all the way. After that she just played really fearless and really aggressive, which I didn’t have the answer for.”
The Czech has won five WTA titles this season but only four matches across the four grand slams.
She said: “The French Open I was a bit tired. The Australian Open and Wimbledon were similar, I didn’t really play fearless, I was a bit passive and I didn’t have the confidence that I needed and I put a lot of pressure on myself.
“I really tried to change it for this grand slam, which I think I did quite well. Hopefully I find a way. I just need to work on it.”
Kerber’s exit, joining Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, means there will be four different grand slam champions for the second year in a row.
Kerber was the last woman to collect two slam titles in a season, winning the Australian and US Opens in 2016 before a dramatic slump last year.
She has been resurgent under the guidance of Wim Fissette, capped by her brilliant victory over Serena Williams at Wimbledon, and had reached at least the quarter-finals at the previous three slams.
But here she found Dominika Cibulkova a step too far, the Slovakian winning 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Kerber said: “I had my chances, but I couldn’t take them, especially in the third set. I was not able to play my best tennis in the important moments. She was going for it, and she hit the balls really good and played the winners when she has to.”
While the other big names fell around her, Maria Sharapova remained the queen of the night session, extending her perfect record with victory over Jelena Ostapenko.
The 2006 champion has played 23 times under the lights at Flushing Meadows and won on each occasion.
She got a helping hand this time from 10th seed Ostapenko, last year’s French Open champion, who hit 40 unforced errors in just 17 games to go down 6-3 6-2.
Sharapova said: “I don’t remember how old I was when I played my first night match, but I’m sure I was young enough to still be intimidated by the city and the lights and the atmosphere, the noise, as anyone that’s quite young would be.
“But I really turned that around. I think I thrive on that. I love the atmosphere. I love that they know how to cheer hard.”
Cibulkova next plays last year’s runner-up, Madison Keys, who avoided an upset by fighting from a set down to defeat Aleksandra Krunic 4-6 6-1 6-2.
Another upset saw Cincinnati champion Kiki Bertens beaten 7-6 (7/4) 2-6 7-6 (7/1) by Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova.
Vondrousova next faces Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, who followed up her victory over Wozniacki by beating Katerina Siniakova 6-4 6-0.
Naomi Osaka has been the most efficient player over the first three rounds and the 20-year-old Japanese-American, who next meets Sabalenka, blasted her way into the last 16 of grand slam for only the second time with a 6-0 6-0 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Novak Djokovic has advanced to his sixth Western & Southern Open final to keep alive his hopes of completing the Golden Masters.
The five-time Cincinnati runner-up ousted Croatian Marin Cilic 6-4 3-6 6-3 in two-and-a-half hours in his bid to claim the only ATP Masters tournament he is yet to win.
The Serbian quickly jumped to a 2-1 lead in the first set and he never dropped his serve as the took the opener.
Cilic charged into a more competitive second set, breaking the number 10 seed on his first serve and then again to run to a 5-1 lead, serving out to love to level the match.
Djokovic soon returned to form in the decider, winning 90% of his first serve points, and clinching the victory on his second match point.
He goes on to face second seed Roger Federer, who booked his place in the final after his opponent David Goffin retired injured at 7-6 (7/3) 1-1.
It will be the 46th time the former world number ones have met, Djokovic leading 23-22.
Quoted on the ATP website, the Wimbledon champion said: “I mean, it’s a final for me and the sixth time that I’ll try to win the title.
“Obviously this time I’m hoping that I can get my hands on the trophy. I will give my best. History is also on the line and I’m aware of that and that motivates me even more.”