MONTREAL—Novak Djokovic has a firm grip on the No. 1 ranking in men’s tennis and takes positives out of his week at the Rogers Cup after a tough loss to his good friend Andy Murray in the final.
Last Sunday’s final was an epic three-hour battle in sweltering heat between the top two players in the world with Murray winning 6–4, 4–6, 6–3.
The loss was but a small dent in Djokovic’s armour—he’s still the man to beat in tennis. He now holds a 19–9 record against Murray, who got back to the No. 2 ranking after his semifinal victory.
“I lost to a better player today,” said Djokovic. “I did fight to the last point and that’s something that I take as a positive.”
It was a back-and-forth match with Murray taking the lead and then getting pegged back by Djokovic before ultimately hanging on for his third Rogers Cup title.
“At different times both of us were dictating,” Murray said. “I played aggressively when I needed to and got some free points on my first serve.”
Very little separated the two players in the heat of Montreal. To beat the No. 1 player in the world is never easy.
“The margins [of victory] are so fine,” said Murray.
As the runaway No. 1 player in the world, there isn’t much left to improve upon, and the Montreal experience was a good one for Djokovic on a couple of levels.
“It was a great week all in all for me,” Djokovic said. “I try to be modest with my expectations and just see how each day goes. When I reflect on the week, of course it’s positive. I’m playing better as the tournament progressed.”
It was Djokovic’s first action since winning Wimbledon.
Djokovic had a routine day at the office in his semifinal victory over France’s Jeremy Chardy on Saturday after having to save a match point in his quarterfinal match.
Chardy talked about how difficult it is to play Djokovic.
“He makes you make a difficult choice all the time and maybe we don’t see it, but he serves really well,” Chardy said. “It’s difficult when you get on the court. You know you have to play your best to win.”
Statistically speaking, Djokovic makes his mark on second serve—both his own and on his opponent’s. He leads the tour in points won on second serve and points won returning a second serve.
Djokovic is not a big server, but he gets a very high percent of his first serves in. As a result, he holds serve 91 percent of the time, which is fifth best on tour.
Djokovic’s defense is legendary and it confounds opponents.
“On defense, he slides. I don’t know how he slides like that,” Chardy said referring to Djokovic sliding not just on clay, but also on the hardcourts.
More of Djokovic–Murray
Men’s tennis could be headed for more Djokovic–Murray clashes as the once “Big four” of Djokovic, Murray, Federer, and Nadal looks like the “Big three” now with Nadal’s results having dropped off. Federer hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, but he did just turn 34.
Murray, born seven days before Djokovic, will keep him other company atop men’s tennis for a few more years to come, but it’s difficult to see anybody else challenging Novak to the same extent.
Djokovic had beaten Murray eight straight times and has nine majors to Murray’s two. And in Murray’s two grand slam wins—Wimbledon 2013 and U.S. Open 2012—he beat Djokovic in the final.
Murray has a lot of respect for Djokovic, but it’s hard for him to say what has really separated Novak from the pack over the past few years.
“Confidence is a big one,” Murray said after his semifinal win. “There’s not many holes in his game. When maybe one shot for him is off during a match, he obviously can hit all of the other ones well and make up for that too.
“So there’s a lot of things that he does very well on the court and that’s why he’s been No. 1 in the world for a while.”
Murray and Djokovic have known each other for about 15 years and they even found the time to play some basketball while in Montreal.
Doubles Helps a Friend
Djokovic also took part in the doubles event in Montreal and a big part of it is to help his lifetime friend and countryman Janko Tipsarevic. Novak doesn’t play doubles often, but when he does, he is determined to do well and help his singles game.
A former top-10 player, Tipsarevic has suffered a number of injuries and has seen his ranking drop below 400.
“I enjoyed winning also with him on the court because I know that’s going to help his confidence and make him feel good on the court as well,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic and Tipsarevic lost their semifinal to Canada’s Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France shortly after Novak downed Chardy.
Djokovic praised Nestor, 43, who was also born in Belgrade. Djokovic, who has never beaten Nestor in doubles says he can be a “real role model for many young tennis players.”
The veteran Nestor also had some advice for Djokovic as he gets older on the tour. “If there was one area where he lacked a little bit, it’s being comfortable at the net, but I guess as he gets older, you can’t really rely on playing 20-30 ball rallies all the time,” Nestor says. “He’s going to have to start moving forward, so being more comfortable at the net will be key for him.”
But Nestor also admitted, “He doesn’t need that much help. He’s pretty much dominating the tour.”
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