Paris Masters 2021: Opening Djokovic win moves former champion closer to record year-end No1 goal

Djokovic’s ability to seal seventh No1 trophy can only be affected by Medvedev

Novak Djokovic is defending champion at the Mutua Madrid Open (Photo: Marianne Bevis)
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

By any measure, it has been an outstanding, memorable year for Novak Djokovic.

He overtook Roger Federer to stack up more weeks at No1 than any other man, and that number, now 345, continues to rise.

He matched his great rivals, Federer and Rafael Nadal, with his 20th Major title. In doing so, he became the only one of the trio to put himself in a position to win the Calendar Grand Slam at the US Open.

In winning the French Open for a second time, he also became the only one of the three to win all the Majors at least twice. And with his ninth Australian title, he extended his own all-time men’s singles record there.

Djokovic matched Federer’s record of 31 Major finals—he reached the championship match at the US Open even though he did not win it.

And away from the Majors, if he wins the Paris Masters this week in Bercy, he could break the tie he has with Nadal of 36 Masters titles to claim the outright record of 37.

But Djokovic’s record-making season is not done yet. In Paris, he has more fish to fry, as he does when it comes to the ATP Finals in Turin in a fortnight’s time.

This week, Djokovic can seal another hugely significant record, the end-of-year No1 trophy for a seventh time, breaking his tie with Pete Sampras. The only man who can prevent him is world No2 Daniil Medvedev, who needed to reach the quarter-finals at the start of the tournament to keep his own hopes of the No1 ranking alive, and then stay at least one step ahead of the Serb.

However, Djokovic has already forced the issue with his first match-win at the tournament to reach the third round. So now, Medvedev has to make at least the semis.

The Russian, of course, was the very man to deny Djokovic the Calendar Slam in New York, winning his own first Major title at the US Open. He is also defending champion in Paris this week, but Djokovic has a record five Bercy titles, and made it clear that, despite taking time since September to recover from his bruising US Open loss, he is returning with many positives.

“It was an exhausting season overall, very successful one, but it did require a lot of mental effort and energy to deal with a lot of things also off the court and all the expectations and pressures of potential Calendar Slam, Golden Slam.” [NB he also played the Olympics in Tokyo, falling one win short of a medal.]

“Of course I’m disappointed that I lost the [US final] match, but I feel like I was blessed to experience love from the crowd and support from the stadium that I have never experienced before in my life in New York, and actually not in many places around the world. And that kind of energy that I received from the crowd… is a win for this human relationship, so to say. They just, as I said on the court, touched my heart.”

Of his absence for so long from competition, Djokovic went on to admit:

“The lack of match play could be dangerous, so I have to really make sure that I start off my first match very well with a good intensity and build my form as that match passes on and hopefully get a win.”

He did just that, and although the rust was evident, Djokovic was playing a man, in Marton Fucsovics, who is No40 in the world, reached the final of another indoor tournament in Rotterdam earlier this year, and beat Jannik Sinner, Diego Schwartzman and Andrey Rublev at Wimbledon before losing to Djokovic himself in the quarters.

The Hungarian had come through a huge test in his first match against Fabio Fognini, winning in a final-set tie-break, and although he was a bit slow off the mark against Djokovic in the first set—0-3 down in short order—he came back impressively in the second as his solid, big hitting from the baseline got some traction.

Fucsovics saved a break point early in the second set, went on to break Djokovic, and levelled the match, 6-4, with some good stats to his name: 13 winners, 5/5 at the net, 19/21 on his first serve.

It looked as though Djokovic had the measure of Fucsovics in the third with an early break, only to be broken back. But a second break took the Serb to 4-2, and although he had match-point against the Hungarian serve, the top seed went on to serve out the win, 6-3, after two hours.

Djokovic said of his first foray since 12 September:

“I knew this was not going to be an easy match. Marton is a very talented player, he has a lot of quality. It was a great fight… It was a great opening match for me. I am very pleased.

“It is just about spending time on court, finding that match play intensity and playing more points. The more matches I play, I think I am going to get better… Hopefully experience can play a role in doing the job well.”

He is gaining more court-time by playing in the doubles draw in Paris, too, with compatriot Filip Krajinovic, and the pair moved into the second round with a win over the Aussie duo of Luke Saville and Alex de Minaur.

Djokovic next plays Adrian Mannarino or Gael Monfils, but all eyes will turn to Medvedev’s late-night contest with Ilya Ivashka. Any missed step by the Russian, and Djokovic will surely have one more record in the bag.

Meanwhile, there are other battles across the schedule in Paris, which began with five men in contention for the last two places at the ATP Finals. The leader of the pack, Casper Ruud, asserted his claim with an impressive win over Alexander Bublik, 6-4, 6-0, but Felix Auger-Aliassime dropped out of contention with a loss to lucky loser Dominik Koepfer, who put in such a sterling effort to beat Andy Murray in the first round, 7-6(9) in the third set.

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