Novak Dominant As He Begins Pursuit Of 6th London Crown
Novak Djokovic was awarded the ATP World Tour No. 1 trophy on Sunday, as the Serbian has guaranteed that he will finish the year as the No. 1 player in the ATP Rankings for the fifth time. The 31-year-old showed why on Monday, beating American John Isner 6-4, 6-3 for his first win at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.
"I don't think it's the reason I was so dominant. I just prepared myself well for the match and executed everything really, really well," Djokovic said. "But, indeed, I do fell a little less, so to say, pressure coming into the tournament knowing that I secured the World No. 1 spot."
That lack of pressure showed in Djokovic's performance. Perhaps the most telling statistic of the match was that Isner won just 64 per cent of his first-serve points. The American started the week third on the ATP World Tour this season by capturing 81.4 per cent of his first-serve points this year. But despite employing plenty of variety — smacking serves that registered at more than 140 mph and using his slice and kick serve to change the pace and try to break his opponent’s rhythm — Djokovic always seemed to find a way to get the point back to neutral, or at least put the ball deep in the court.
It was fitting that Djokovic finished off a 74-minute victory with one of many stunning passing-shot winners. Djokovic has now earned 50 tour-level match wins 11 times in the past 12 years, and he is 32-2 since the start of Wimbledon, including four tournament victories during that time. It has been a tremendous run for the top seed, who will be the first player to be ranked outside the Top 20 and finish the same season at No. 1 in the history of the ATP Rankings.
This year’s Wimbledon, Cincinnati, US Open and Shanghai champion, Djokovic has now won his opening match at the Nitto ATP Finals in 10 consecutive appearances, dating back to the tournament’s final edition in China. Djokovic, who now leads Isner 9-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, owns a 32-11 mark at the season finale, while the rest of Group Guga Kuerten has three combined victories at the event.
Isner entered the match leading the ATP World Tour margin by a wide margin in service games won category this year, holding 94.2 per cent of the time according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats. But Djokovic made clear early on that he was not intimidated, earning break point in each of the American’s first three service games. And while Isner used 127 mph and 126 mph second serves to stave off Djokovic’s pressure in his first two service games, he could not hold off the World No. 1.
Djokovic broke with a cross-court forehand winner that zoomed past the serve-and-volleying Isner, and he did not look back from there in the opener, losing just four of his own service points in the first set. And while Isner did well to hold through 3-3 in the second set, Isner overplayed a low forehand approach shot, whipping it into the net to give the Serbian his second break of the match, which was ultimately decisive.
"He is No.1 and No.2 and No.3," said Isner when asked where Djokovic ranks amongst returners he has played. "He's the best returner I've ever faced for sure. I've said that before, too. So he's a very good tennis player."
Next up will be Alexander Zverev, who also won on Monday. The pair has split two FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, with Djokovic dropping just three games against the German in Shanghai.
"I'm feeling fit physically and mentally. I'm looking forward to that match. Obviously, [the] good thing about this tournament is that you have days in between matches, and you're guaranteed to play three matches in the group," Djokovic said. "I obviously put myself in a very good position with the group with a straight-sets win. Obviously playing Zverev, who also had a straight-sets win today, I look forward to that. It should be a great match."