Here comes Novak Djokovic. Again.
Whatever peaks and valleys Djokovic may have traveled through over the course of a season—the peaks are always much more common than the valleys—you can count on him to make the race for No. 1 interesting at the end. Since 2011, he has finished either No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in every season other than 2017, when he was injured. In 2012, he passed Roger Federer for the top spot at the ATP Finals; in 2013, he nearly did the same to Rafael Nadal; and in 2016, he was edged out by Andy Murray in the last match of the year. Now, after his vintage-clinical dissection of the field in Bercy, he’s on the hunt again.
“It was a great tournament for me,” Djokovic said after beating Denis Shapovalov 6-3 6-4 in 65 minutes in the final. “I haven’t dropped a set; I played really well in the last three matches.”
“In terms of points, that puts me in a better position,” he said, after improving on his runner-up performance from 2018, and drawing within 640 points of Rafael Nadal for the No. 1 spot. “But again, I have to keep on winning.”
Would you bet against that happening? Djokovic faced just one seeded player in Bercy, Stefanos Tsitsipas, but he responded with his sharpest performance and most lopsided win—6-1, 6-2—of the week. And he was never pushed on Sunday. Djokovic jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Shapovalov, who was playing his first Masters 1000 final, got off to shaky start. From there Djokovic won 81 percent of his first-serve points, 80 percent of his second serve points, and faced just one break point, which he erased with a service winner. Djokovic, in lockdown mode from the start, made just seven unforced errors.
“I think I had the best serving match of the tournament, and that’s why the match was pretty short,” Djokovic said. “I put him under pressure on the second serve, and from the back of the court, I was solid and not giving him too many opportunities.”
As good as Djokovic was, it was a shot of Shapovalov’s—his return, or lack thereof—that proved decisive. Shapovalov struggled to put Djokovic’s serve back in play, even when he didn’t have to stretch for it. He tried swinging through, he tried blocking it, he tried slicing it, but nothing worked.
“It was tough for me to find a groove just because he was really, really picking his spots on the serve,” said Shapovalov, who spent much of the match staring at the ceiling in disbelief at his futility on the return.
All in all, the Canadian’s maiden Masters 1000 final went about as well as you might expect, considering the fact that he was facing an opponent who was playing his 50th. Shapo stumbled out of the gate, kept himself in the match on the strength of 11 aces, but never looked comfortable. At least he and coach Mikhail Youzhny know what to focus on during the off-season.
While Shapovalov has played his last ATP event of the year, Djokovic heads for London and a potential showdown with Nadal. Rafa has the lead, but he also suffered an abdominal injury in Bercy. Djokovic hasn’t won the ATP Finals since 2015, but he’s a five-time champion, and he’ll have an obvious motivation to get title No. 6. The GOAT race may primarily be about major titles, but year-end No. 1 finishes are also a factor that will be weighed. If Djokovic passes Nadal in London, he’ll lead Rafa six to four in that category; if he doesn’t, it will be five year-end No. 1s apiece.
“There’s always a chance I win all my matches in London, that I play well,” Djokovic said. “I have done it in the past, and I like playing there.”
As I said: Here comes Novak Djokovic again.