WASHINGTON, October 31, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
As the Rolex Paris Masters unfolds this week in Bercy, the final regular-season stop on the ATP World Tour, one thousand points will go to the champion. Without a single point to defend for the rest of the 2018 season, which also includes next month’s Nitto ATP Finals in London, No. 2 Novak Djokovic stands a very good chance to make a historic climb back to No. 1 in the world.
Being the year-end No. 1 player is a familiar position for the 31-year-old Djokovic. After all, he was No. 1 at the end of 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Not only is it amazing to be this consistently good, but if Djokovic is able to wrestle the No. 1 ranking away from Rafael Nadal – and he has an excellent chance to do it – the Serbian would become the first man to make it to the top after being ranked No. 22 in June.
Since early summer, when he rediscovered his baseline form, improved his service game and reminded everyone why he’s one of the best returners in the game – bar none – Djokovic has nine victories over Top 10 players, including wins over Nadal and Roger Federer, ranked No. 3 in the world. He’s lifted trophies at Wimbledon, the Cincinnati Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Shanghai Masters. Reunited with his coach, Marian Vajda, he’s been nearly unstoppable.
“To do what Djokovic has done the second half of this season is incredible,” said Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone, who formerly coached Federer.
On Tuesday night, Djokovic began his quest for a 33rd ATP Masters 1000 title with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over 48th-ranked qualifier Joao Sousa, which improved his head-to-head against the Portuguese to 6-0. He’s won the Paris Masters a record four times – including three straight (2013-15). Next up for Djokovic is a round of 16 match on Thursday against 52nd-ranked Damir Dzumhur, who upset No. 14 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 6-3, earlier Tuesday.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 30. Oktober 2018
“I do think I’m playing at my best at the moment,” Djokovic said over the weekend. “I always think I can improve, but I feel like this is a very high level.”
Djokovic has now won 19 straight matches – all on hard courts – and 28 of his last 29 matches overall. He’s won 28 consecutive sets. His 2018 win-loss record is an impressive 46-10.
“I really enjoy tennis at the moment and enjoy competing, because obviously when you’re winning that many matches you have a lot of confidence. When you have a lot of confidence, you approach the practice sessions and the tournaments and the matches in a just completely different way,” said Djokovic.
Nadal returns to his “special city”
On Wednesday, both Nadal and Federer begin their respective runs at Bercy. No. 1 seed Nadal, who is going after his first Paris Masters crown, will face 27th-ranked Fernando Verdasco in the fourth match of the day from 11 a.m. on Court Central. The 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal owns a precarious 225-point edge over Djokovic in this week’s ATP Rankings. He must match or surpass Djokovic’s performance this week to stay World No. 1.
Nadal hasn’t played competitively since retiring against Juan Martín del Potro in the U.S. Open semifinals because of an injured right knee. Last year, Nadal reached the Paris Masters quarterfinals before he withdrew because of a knee injury. Now 32, he’s only played six times at Bercy during his 15-year career.
“This city is so special for me,” said Nadal during his pre-tournament press conference. “So that’s little bit more motivation to be here. I am not thinking about big improvements or big things. I am just thinking about small improvements, and that’s the goal.”
Federer back in Paris
Meanwhile, Federer is fresh off winning the ATP 500 Swiss Indoors at Basel for his 99th career title win on Sunday. The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who won the Paris Masters in 2011, faces 21st-ranked Milos Raonic to highlight Wednesday’s night session, not before 7:30 p.m. Raonic advanced over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in three tie-break sets on Tuesday.
— ROLEX PARIS MASTERS (@RolexPMasters) 30. Oktober 2018
“It’s not always been easy the past few weeks,” Federer, 37, was quoted by the ATP World Tour website as saying, after his title win at Basel. “I’ve played well, but at times also I didn’t play as well, so it’s nice to come back to winning ways. Now we’ll see what happens next. But obviously, getting 99 is a huge, huge number for me.”
After practicing Tuesday afternoon following his arrival in Paris, Federer told a press conference gathering that he’s looking forward to going after his 100th tournament victory at Bercy, his first appearance in the tournament since 2015. “I’m excited,” he said. “Mostly, I feel like it’s better for me to play matches rather than practice, and I think that’s it. And then, as long as I don’t feel like I’m taking a chance on my health prior (the ATP Finals) in London, that’s the key as well.
“I would rather play on a nice court rather than going back to practice. I’ve already done enough practice this season! So, I feel like if that helps me for London, that’s a great thing.”