In 2009, the mighty Serb won the first of six Tokyo titles, and strode to the Tokyo title last week. He is a four-time winner at the Shanghai Masters, where he is defending the title this week.
And arguably, it all began in Shanghai back in 2008, when the Masters Cup—now called the ATP Finals—was played in the very same arena. The then 21-year-old, who began that year with his first Major title in Australia, and took his tally of Masters to four with wins in Indian Wells and Rome, would win his first year-end finale in the tournament’s last playing in Shanghai.
Djokovic, who this year has added two more Major titles to his resume to close in on Rafael Nadal’s 19 and Roger Federer’s 20, has of course already qualified for his 12th appearance at the ATP Finals, where he could draw level with Federer’s record six titles.
And when it comes to the No1 ranking, he will reach his 50th consecutive week at the top by the end of the Shanghai tournament no matter who wins the title: He is more than 1,000 points clear of Nadal, who in any case is not playing in Shanghai this year.
And that will take him to 273 weeks in total, a tally that has already taken him past the likes of Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors, and he has opened clear water already from Nadal, Bjorn Borg and Andre Agassi—some of the all-time greats in this sport.
Indeed only Pete Sampras, with 286 weeks, and Federer, with 310, have accumulated more, and it is a Sampras record that Djokovic will also have in his sights at the O2 in London.
The world No1 currently stands all square with Federer and Connors with five year-end No1 trophies. As things stand now, Djokovic has to close fewer than 1,400 points on Nadal to overtake the absent Spaniard in the year-end Race, and could reduce that gap to 500 or so if he wins in Shanghai. With another 1,000 points available at the Paris Masters, and then a maximum of 1,500 at the ATP Finals, the battle could come down to London itself.
For the moment, however, Djokovic is focused on the job in hand, maintaining his prowess and success at the Masters level of the tour. For victory would take him to within one title of Nadal’s current record 35 Masters crowns.
He achieved a unique record last year in winning the Cincinnati Masters, becoming the only man to have won the complete set of Masters titles, all nine—dubbed ‘the golden Masters’. But it is more than two years since he topped the overall table of Masters wins over Nadal: Shanghai and Paris would draw Djokovic level with his great rival again.
He took his first step against the talented young Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, who is still only 20 years old but with a slip down the ranks since his high of 20 earlier this year to 36, as he struggled to build on his outstanding and charismatic launch onto the senior scene in 2017. The teenager reached the semis of the Montreal Masters and then the fourth round of the US Open.
Shapovalov has gone on to reach two more Masters semis, including Miami this year, and can count wins over Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Kei Nishikori, but he lost both his meetings with Djokovic this year, and after nine first-round losses this year, he would have to find another level to make inroads with this tough draw in Shanghai.
And the Serb was not about to make life easy: He was fast out of the blocks with a love hold. Then a double fault offered up an immediate break point against the Canadian, but Shapovalov found a couple of big swinging serves and a net finish to hold.
Indeed, Shapovalov held on to Djokovic’s coat-tails until the eighth game, when a timely break left the Serb to serve out the set with ease, 6-3. He had, after all, dropped just one point on 21 serves. He had also made 10 winners to just six errors, out-playing the energetic 20-year-old across the board.
Shapovalov kept up his attacking game at the start of the second set, and earned a first break chance in the second game. But Djokovic served his way out of trouble, and did so again in the fourth game, with two aces to hold, 2-2. The Serb increased his grip on proceedings as soon as Shapovalov showed an inch of weakness—a couple of errors on serve—and Djokovic broke for 3-2, swiftly holding for 4-2.
The Canadian held one more game, but could not resist the champion any further, broken for set and match, 6-3, in just 70 minutes.
It had, in short, been a masterclass, a reminder of just how impenetrable the Djokovic game has become. That his serving and net play are improving all the time only makes his tactically flawless baseline tennis all the more impressive. Here, he won nine of 10 net points, and dropped only four points in 35 first serves. Add those kinds of statistics added to acute angles and line-hitting length on both wings, make him a fortress.
The next to try his luck will be John Isner, whose serving weapons may perhaps have the best chance of breaking through the Djokovic defences. Not that the American has beaten Djokovic in six years, and faces a 9-2 deficit. But the fast Shanghai courts should give the No17-ranked Isner’s serve a little extra edge. He hit 19 aces in his 7-5, 6-3 win over Lucas Pouille, to move within two aces of 1,000 for this year.
Also in this quarter, Hubert Hurkacz beat No9 seed Gael Monfils, and will next play No6 seed Tsitsipas, who beat Felix Auger-Aliassime, 7-6(3), 7-6(3), to edge the 21-year-old Greek star closer to his first qualification for the ATP Finals.
In this half, Karen Khachanov also gave his chances for London a boost by beating Taylor Fritz to set a third-round contest with fellow London hopeful Fabio Fognini.
In the bottom half, David Goffin built on his growing form to beat Mikhail Kukushkin, who threw in the towel at 6-2, 3-0 down. The Belgian next plays Federer, and the winner of that match will face either Alexander Zverev or Andrey Rublev, who took the count of 23 and under players still in the draw to seven.
Meanwhile, Dominic Thiem, champion in a tough draw in Beijing last week, looked full of confidence in a real test from Pablo Carreno Busta, with Austrian setting up a third-round match against No15 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, 7-6, 6-3.
1 Rafael Nadal 9,225 [qualified]
2 Novak Djokovic 7,855 [qualified]
3 Roger Federer 5,600 [qualified]
4 Daniil Medvedev 4,965 [qualified]
5 Dominic Thiem 4,435 [qualified]
6 Stefanos Tsitsipas 3,460
7 Roberto Bautista Agut 2,485
8 Alexander Zverev 2,345
9 David Goffin 2,325
10 Matteo Berrettini 2,275
11 Kei Nishikori 2,180 [not playing]
12 Gael Monfils 2,170 [beaten R2]
13 Fabio Fognini 2,145
14 Diego Schwartzman 1,860 [beaten R1]
15 John Isner 1,760
16 Karen Khachanov 1,695
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge