Novak Djokovic may no longer be the world No.1, but he reminded the tennis fraternity what he is capable of with back-to-back titles in Beijing and Shanghai. Wimbledon.com reports...
A few weeks ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that Novak Djokovic was the forgotten man of 2013. Alongside Rafael Nadal's astonishing double-Slam-winning comeback, Andy Murray's Wimbledon win, and Roger Federer's not-so-stellar results, the Serb's achievements in winning five titles this season were not at the forefront of everyone's minds.
But, Djokovic is always at his most dangerous when he has almost been counted out or overlooked, and, much as it has been for Federer in the past, this time of year is a happy place in the Serb's season, the indoor hard court conditions and his indefatigable fitness combining perfectly for an autumn title-tear.
While Nadal arrived in Shanghai aiming to win the title for the first time, the one ATP Masters 1000 crown that still eludes him, Djokovic, the defending champion, had not lost a match on Chinese soil since the 2010 semi-finals.
Playing with that glint in his eye that shows he is out to prove a point, the second seed survived a complicated encounter against Gael Monfils in the quarter-finals, battled past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in two in the semi-finals, before taking on Juan Martin Del Potro in the final. The Argentine had produced a blistering all-court attack to end Nadal's title quest in the last four, 6-2, 6-4, later remarking that he was "hitting the ball so hard."
"Very few times I have played against a player with a level like today," Nadal said ruefully. "At the end I played against a player who served 80% of first serves, who hit every ball as hard as he can I think, and with no mistakes."
If Del Potro, who also clinched his spot at the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with the win, could bring the same level to the final against Djokovic, the Shanghai tennis fans were set for quite a treat.
"All the way up to the last point, I didn't know if I was going to win the match," Djokovic said, as he and Del Potro contested a two-hour and 33-minute final, which ended in a caged-tiger-like third-set tie-break win for Djokovic.
Triumphing 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(3), Djokovic improved his winning streak to 20-0 in China, and has a slim chance of grabbing back the No.1 ranking from Nadal before the end of the season.
"The match was really close and I think Nole played [some] unbelievable points in the tie-break," Del Potro said, revealing that he believes he is playing better tennis than when he won the US Open in 2009. "The match was so exciting. At Wimbledon [in early July] we played another fantastic match against each other. It's a really bad loss for me now. I was really close to beating him after beating [Rafael] Nadal."
With just Paris and London left to play in 2013, the wonder is whether Nadal's summer form has finally caught up with him, and whether Djokovic, by contrast, has found a new lease of life at the opportune moment. If he can carry on the momentum into 2014 and the Australian swing, he is likely to extend another unbeaten streak - his combined run of 34-0 on Australian and Asian courts.
On the WTA, meanwhile, Angelique Kerber made the most of a last-minute entry into the Linz tournament, beating Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 7-6(6) to claim the title and the eighth and final spot for next week's WTA Championships in Istanbul. It was only the German's third title, all three of which have come on indoor courts.
"At the end I was just focusing point to point and not thinking about the match points I already had," Kerber said. "I was just trying to stay aggressive in the important moments and I think that was the biggest key to victory at the end. I'm really happy to win my first WTA tournament of the year here."
Five thousand miles away, Samantha Stosur produced a final flourish of her own to take home the Osaka title, defeating Eugenie Bouchard in the final.
In other news, watch out for the Pliskova sisters, Kristyna and Karolina, who made WTA history by becoming the first twins to win a WTA doubles title together, beating Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolska, 7-6(6) 6-4.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all