Djokovic caps successful China swing with Shanghai title
SHANGHAI (AP) — Novak Djokovic wore a red shirt in his matches at the Shanghai Masters this week to connect with his Chinese fans and perhaps give himself a little boost.
“I know it’s a lucky national color, so it’s my lucky charm,” he said.
With the way he dominated, he didn’t need any luck.
Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-2, 6-4 to capture the ninth title of his impressive season in Shanghai on Sunday, a week after he triumphed at the China Open in Beijing for the sixth time in six appearances.
He didn’t drop a set at either tournament, only once being pushed to a tiebreaker, and extended his winning streak to 17 straight matches dating back to his championship run at the U.S. Open.
“This has been the best two weeks of my life, my career,” the top-ranked Serb said. “Energy-wise, I was great. I didn’t get tired. I always had plenty of intensity, concentration, a high performance level from the first match in Beijing to today’s match.”
Tsonga came into the match leading the tournament with 64 aces, but Djokovic returned so effectively that he broke the Frenchman three times and held him to zero aces in the opening set.
Tsonga played more aggressively in the second set, but still had to fight off five break points until Djokovic was finally able to convert on his sixth when the Frenchman double-faulted while serving at 4-all. Djokovic then served out the match.
“Today, there is nothing to say. He’s playing a lot better than everybody,” Tsonga said. “You have to be in your best shape to beat him anyway, and everybody knows that it’s not easy to play your best tennis every match.”
Djokovic has traditionally played well during the Asian swing following the U.S. Open when other players are either nursing injuries or tired after a long season. In terms of the quality of his tennis in China this year, though, the Serb said he’s never felt as confident.
“I mean, only one set where I got a tiebreak in two weeks is quite incredible,” he said. “So I’m very, very pleased with the way I’ve played.”
Having a lot of fan support certainly helps. His Chinese supporters packed the stadium on Sunday with Serbia flags, and as Djokovic noted earlier this week some have even given themselves Serbian names and are learning his country’s national anthem.
Djokovic thanked them for their support by writing a different Chinese character on the courtside television camera after each match (“love” and “fortune” are two of his favorites) and trying some Mandarin in his victory speech.
“I need to work on my phrases more because I’ve been saying the same thing for too many years,” he said with a laugh.
But it’s not just China where he has been winning this year — it’s just about everywhere.
Among his accomplishments, with the Paris Masters and ATP Finals in London still left to play:
— Djokovic became one of three men to play in all four Grand Slam finals in a single season in the Open era, joining Roger Federer and Rod Laver. (Laver, coincidentally, was in the stands to watch Djokovic’s win on Sunday.)
— With wins in Beijing and Shanghai, he surpassed $16 million in prize money, the highest ever by a player in a single season.
— He has also reached 13 consecutive finals dating back to January, second only to Federer’s 17 straight finals in 2005-06.
And there’s every reason Djokovic could finish the season undefeated — he hasn’t lost in Paris or London since 2012.
“I’m not thinking about being unbeaten ’till the rest of the year,” he said. “But, yes, that’s an option. It’s a possibility.”
As good as this year has been, he has more goals to achieve next year, chiefly among them capturing his first French Open and Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro. He just hopes he’ll continue to have the motivation and stamina to keep it up.
“I don’t want to get carried away by success,” Djokovic said, “because I want to be playing on this level for many more years to come.”