Djokovic Sets Epic Showdown With Murray
The battle for year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings all ends Sunday
It all comes down to this. The top spot in the year-end Emirates ATP Rankings will be decided in the final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, as Novak Djokovic downed Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1 on Saturday.
The stage is set for a titanic clash for the title, with No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Djokovic renewing their storied rivalry. The Serbian, a five-time champion at the season finale, is seeking to extend his reign atop the year-end Emirates ATP Rankings with a third straight No. 1 finish and fifth overall. Murray, meanwhile, will look to extend his stay at No. 1 after assuming the mantle two weeks ago at the BNP Paribas Masters. Regardless of the result, history will be made on Sunday. The year-end No. 1 has never been decided by the top two players in the championship match of the season finale.
Djokovic was ruthless in extending his FedEx ATP Head2Head to 11-2 against Nishikori, blasting past the Japanese in just one hour and six minutes. The Serbian successfully broke in his first five return games and executed a dominant game plan from the baseline. He refused to allow Nishikori to find any rhythm, striking his forehand with authority and defending well off his backhand wing. Djokovic fired 14 winners in total, also benefiting from 24 Nishikori unforced errors.
"The best performance of the tournament came really at the right time," said Djokovic. "Everything kind of clicked together tonight. I felt really well. I started with a great pace, great concentration, dictating the play, mixing up the pace. Everything was going well. I am very pleased.
"Kei was not close to his best. The fact that he played late last night, it's been a long year for him and a long tournament, so he was probably a little bit tired. Nevertheless, I tried to make myself present on the court, make him feel that I'm playing to the last shot, which I did. Even at 6-1, 5-1, I was really committed."
"Today I think Novak played pretty awesome," said Nishikori. "There's nothing I can complain about. Physically, I just wasn't ready to play against Novak."
In Sunday's final, Djokovic faces a familiar foe in Murray. It will be their 35th encounter, with the World No. 2 owning a 24-10 advantage. Fatigue and fitness will play a critical role, with Murray taking the court after a pair of encounters that lasted more than three hours and 20 minutes. He needed three hours and 21 minutes to dismiss Nishikori on Wednesday, followed by a season finale three-set record three-hour and 38-minute victory over Milos Raonic earlier on Saturday. Djokovic, meanwhile, has enjoyed a routine march to the final, having dropped three games in defeating alternate David Goffin in 70 minutes on Thursday.
It will be just the second encounter between Djokovic and Murray at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, following a three-set win for the Serbian in the 2012 round robin stage. Djokovic has taken three of their four meetings this year, in the finals of the Australian Open, Roland Garros and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Madrid. Murray notched a straight-set win in the Rome title match.
Appearing in the semis for the second time, Nishikori was bidding to become the first Asian-born player to reach the final in tournament history. He concludes his 2016 campaign with a 58-21 win-loss mark, having lifted his lone trophy on the indoor hard courts of Memphis. His loss means that Milos Raonic will finish the year at No. 3 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Nishikori would have assumed the third position had he won the title.
"It was one of the best years for me," Nishikori added. "I played a lot of matches, beating the top players a lot. I got a lot of confidence this year. This is not the finish what I wanted, but still I think it was a good year."