ATP World Tour Finals 2016: Djokovic sails past Nishikori to set No1 showdown with Murray
Novak Djokovic will take on Andy Murray in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals after beating Kei Nishikori
Since winning Wimbledon in 2014, Novak Djokovic had stood atop the rankings by a near-insurmountable margin over the rest of the field.
But since closing his Grand Slam circle with the French Open title this summer, his own form had dipped below its usual and constant best and Andy Murray’s form had risen inexorably through the grass season—titles at Queen’s and Wimbledon—on to Olympic gold, and through an unbeaten autumn of four titles.
It was enough to grab the No1 ranking for the first time, and in time for the season’s finale in London.
But so small is the margin between the two rivals who were born just a week apart and now have 34 matches against one another in the bag, that every single match in London mattered.
Sure enough, both won all three of their round robins, and sure enough, they both ended Saturday having won their semi-finals as well.
And that set up the final showdown that most had anticipated, a showdown not just for the ATP’s most prestigious title but, literally, for the year-end No1.
However their progress to that final showdown could not have been more different. Each had dropped just one set on their way to Saturday, but Murray against Kei Nishikori on Wednesday had become the longest recorded three-setter in the tournament’s history—3hrs 20mins. Then Murray went a step further in his semi against Milos Raonic: a new record of 3hrs 38mins.
So late did the match finish that the evening session was delayed by more than half an hour. It mattered not a jot to Djokovic however: He was done in 66 minutes and on his way home just an hour and a half after Murray had completed his post-match rehab and press.
In truth, the 6-1, 6-1 whitewashing of the Japanese No5 seed was not entirely surprising. As well as being one half of that epic match with Murray on Wednesday, Nishikori had been the last match played Friday, and that too proved to be a tough three-set battle, even though the result had no impact on qualification. Fewer than 20 hours later, he faced a well-rested Djokovic for the 13th time, a man he had beaten only twice before and not in their last nine meetings.
Djokovic broke serve twice for a 4-0 lead, only to have a lapse of concentration that allowed Nishikori a break back. The Serb broke again and defended two break-back points to serve out the set, 6-1, playing with his unique brand of athletic precision, and firing 10 winners for only seven errors.
Djokovic broke immediately in the second set, too, and Nishikori, head bowed and looking depleted, was again facing a 4-0 deficit. The Japanese man held for 4-1 but that would be his limit. An impressive World No2 was ruthless in finishing the job with two big forehand winners, 6-1.
And tomorrow, he has the chance to turn that No2 back into No1 in his first meeting with Murray since the final of the French Open, which the Serb won in four sets.
Their trajectories took very different routes after that match, but now those trajectories collide once more, in the last tour match either will play this year.
Murray, after the best season of his career, is trying to win here for the first time. Djokovic is aiming to equal the record six World Tour Final titles won by Roger Federer. And should the Serb need any more confidence, he is unbeaten in all five titles matches he has played, and has won 21 of his last 22 matches in the tournament.
And as he said afterwards, “The best performance of the tournament came really at the right time. 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 must be very pleased. I enjoyed myself.
“All in all it was a really good performance. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s final.”
He and Murray will set a another record tomorrow, regardless of who wins: It will be the first time that the No1 ranking has been decided by the title match of the season finale.
With all that is at stake, everyone will be hoping for a match worthy of such a significant occasion.