NICK NEMEROFF – @NNemeroff
If you’re a Novak Djokovic fan, his week in Paris should change nothing about how you feel about the current state of his game.
He is still playing at an astronomically high level and did all he could to capture the Paris title. Recovering from a three-hour match against Roger Federer while fighting illness is not the easiest way to win a Masters 1000 event.
Djokovic looks as good as he did during Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and I expect him to be fully ready to take down the competition at the ATP Finals once again.
Federer will certainly be Djokovic’s biggest test in London, but the Serbian — the new World No. 1 — should be feeling really good about his chances.
MERT ERTUNGA – @MertovsTDesk
Despite losing in the Bercy finals, Novak remains on top of the ATP going into 2019. The total package of his retrieving ability (in every detail, from lobs with the body fully stretched to running counterpunches to anything else, you name it) makes him near impossible to beat on mid-pace to slow court surfaces. Plus, his serve has turned into a fantastic “rescue” weapon when facing break points or close tiebreaker scorelines.
His fall play has not been at the level of his U.S. Open showing (which was at, if not close to, his 2014-16 level), but even with that, he will be the man to beat at the Australian Open. The question remains, who can overtake him? With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer remaining his top rivals, it is hard to see anyone overtaking his position (and that of the top three) anytime soon.
This would be a good time for one of the up-and-comers to step up and officially put himself in the elite category – yes, that will happen at some point, so don’t scoff at that possibility.
MATT ZEMEK – @mzemek
For a man who wasn’t healthy during the whole week in Paris, Novak Djokovic did extremely well.
We have so often seen – in this Big 3 “Golden Era” of men’s professional tennis – players lose a tournament yet compete at an amazingly high level. Usually, in this era of ATP competition, the winner of the tournament has been a member of the Big 3, and the valiant runner-up has also come from the Big 3. The champion deserved rich words of praise, but the runner-up had nothing to be ashamed of, doing very little wrong and covering himself in all forms of glory except the confetti reserved for the holder of the championship trophy.
The only plot twist this week in France was that the champion did not come from the Big 3. Karen Khachanov made a late-season surge and finalized it by staring down a 1-3, 0-30 first-set deficit to turn around his Sunday against the (now-) World No. 1 and freshly-minted year-end No. 1. It was clear as the match wore on that Djokovic was worn out. Playing three hours against Roger Federer on Saturday in the late semifinal, against a fresher Khachanov – who played the early semifinal and put it to bed very quickly against Dominic Thiem – was too much. Had Djokovic been healthy, it might have been a different story, but that wasn’t the scenario Nole was given.
He did the most with what he had.
That match against Federer will be Djokovic’s fondest memory from the week, and what a rich memory it will be. How many other players – after failing on 12 break points over three sets against a great player – would have been able to calmly respond by holding serve and not flinching? You can count that list of players on one hand… and more precisely, on two fingers: Nadal and Federer themselves.
For 98 percent of players on tour, frustrations would have spilled into a third-set service game and Federer would have won 6-3 or 6-4 in that match on Saturday.
Djokovic is not “the other 98 percent.” He is who he is – and has become what he has become – precisely because of a signature ability to stare down the Fedal axis of power at the start of this decade and become better than both of them since the 2011 season began. His lockdown grip on ATP supremacy was interrupted by injury and then the brief separation from Marian Vajda, but as soon as he reunited with his trusted coach, everything has snapped back into place. Djokovic having every answer for every Federer question has been a constant reality and theme in this decade. Being able to replicate that show of strength, one more time – when far from being 100 percent – makes Saturday’s match a moment Djokovic will likely remember with great fondness many years from now.
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