Paris Masters: Serene Novak Djokovic sails to 600th win and 20th Masters crown
Novak Djokovic beats Milos Raonic in straight sets to win the Paris Masters title
Novak Djokovic had rarely looked as cool, calm and collected as he did in taking to the reverberating centre court at Paris Bercy to defend his BNP Paribas Masters title against Milos Raonic.
Perhaps it was the kind of serenity that fatherhood brings, for since winning the Beijing 500 and reaching the semis at the Shanghai Masters, Djokovic had celebrated the birth of a son. But as he soon revealed, that new status would spur him on rather than hold him back: He announced not just the arrival of baby Stefan but that he would be fit and ready to return for his Paris defence. Now that is great timing.
Meanwhile Djokovic’s toughest competition was still hard at it in Vienna, Valencia and Basel. Roger Federer was closing the rankings gap after losing just three matches in seven consecutive tournaments, but now had a leg-sapping 66 match-wins on the board. Andy Murray had won three titles from five straight weeks in competition. And Rafael Nadal finally opted for surgery after just seven matches following a three-month injury absence.
And clearly a tough Paris draw did not faze Djokovic. He dispatched Philipp Kohlscheiber, Gael Monfils, Murray and the man who beat him in the semis of the US Open, Kei Nishikori, all without dropping a set.
Indeed he looked and played like the man who last year sailed through the autumn unbeaten: Beijing, Shanghai, Paris and London. He looked like the man who was on a 26-match unbeaten indoor run and who already had three Masters titles to his name this year.
And he looked like a man who had no intention of giving up the year-end No1 ranking at the same time of year as he conceded the top spot last year. Then, it was to Nadal, this time it could be Federer—but with a Swiss loss in the quarters, Djokovic was already flexing his muscles for this year’s race.
Everything, in short, seemed to be aligning perfecting for the Serb—not least that victory in Paris would proved a little extra incentive: his 600th match win and 20th Masters crown.
And the calm confidence of Djokovic was writ large before he and Raonic even played a point. Rather than use his famed returning skills against the almost-certainly nervous big-serving Canadian, playing in only his second Masters final, the Serb opted to open serving himself, and it certainly threw down a weighty gauntlet. He made three clean serve winners and held to love.
Conversely Raonic, who scored what he described as his ‘biggest win’ in beating Federer for the first time in the quarters, got his first delivery past the Serb but quickly faced break point and netted a volley to concede a 2-0 lead.
Djokovic did not just expose the Raonic serve and volley, he negated another of the big Canadian’s favourite plays—using his big off forehand to open his opponent’s court. Instead Djokovic’s remarkably strong and flexible backhand played a winner into the open part of Raonic’s court.
Another easy Djokovic hold to 15 and it was 3-0, and Raonic faced deuce on serve again. But the 23-year-old began to find some rhythm from the baseline, held, and earned a break-back point with a couple of cracking forehand winners.
Raonic was in awful trouble again at 1-4 and 0-40 down, but his serve at last came to his aid with a couple of huge aces, and he carried that confidence into the next game by taking on Djokovic at the back of the court and winning. Now it was he who held 40-0 against serve, but Djokovic too stood up to the test and held with some fine serving of his own.
Djokovic, though, needed a brief medical time out for his right calf. Not that his movement looked troubled by the tweak, and he was quick to capitalise on a wayward game from Raonic—a first double fault, a couple of poor volleys and a netted smash—to break for the set, 6-2.
The vast majority of the winners and errors had come from the Raonic racket, but the serving stats were in Djokovic’s favour—and so was the score.
The second start began in just the same way: a hold for Djokovic, a break for Raonic—on a double fault, no less. And the Serb had the Canadian on the run, now dropping, now lobbing, now picking up a volley to make a drop-shot winner. Very quickly, Raonic was serving to save the match, but despite some deft returning from Djokovic, Raonic managed to fend off two match points.
He could not do the same when Djokovic served, though, and a wide serve and forehand finish did the trick for the Serb: a third Paris Masters title in just an hour and 23 minutes, 6-3, and at the expense of only 10 unforced errors.
Djokovic, serene to the end, spoke in French of his affection for Paris and of his satisfaction in his tennis this week: “I think only one service game of his went to love in the entire match. That says how well I returned. I’m very proud of my game today, the best performance in this most important match this week.”
Then he allowed himself a broad smile, and quite rightly: “I can’t be more grateful or happier at this stage of my life. I’ve become a dad, and got married in July also, and won Wimbledon, and still No1. This is definitely some of the best time of my life and I’m trying to cherish every moment of it.”
In this form, in this state of mind, and with this calm confidence embracing him like a warm blanket, he looks every inch the world No1… and very probably will be for the rest of a singularly happy year.
For Raonic, it has also been a confidence-boosting week. His wins over Federer and then Tomas Berdych will be encouraging victories to carry into the World Tour Finals, where Raonic will be the youngest since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008.