Driven Djokovic ready to reclaim his crown after Paris masterclass

 - Alex Sharp

Djokovic won his 5th Paris title to keep in striking distance of Nadal in the race to finish the season as No.1

Novak Djokovic wawing to the crowd after his win at the Rolex Paris Masters 2019©Philippe Montigny/FFT

On Monday morning Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal returned to the summit as the world No.1, but Novak Djokovic sent out a defiant message at the Rolex Paris Masters.

The Serbian was back to mesmerising form in the French capital last week and reeled in Nadal to just 640 ranking points ahead of the season finale ATP Finals in London, which start on Sunday.

Djokovic, chasing a sixth year-end No.1 ranking, lifted his 34th Masters 1000 title to ramp up the pressure on Nadal, who unfortunately withdrew from his semi-final against Denis Shapovalov in Bercy with an abdominal injury.

Nadal insists he will do everything to feature at the O2 Arena in east London, but will the Spaniard be able to field the all-court artillery to derail Djokovic?

Undefeated winner

“First of all, I'm sad to see that he's injured because that's not what you want to see, not for Rafa, not for any other athlete. I hope he can recover and compete in London. For the battle for No.1 but also the tournament itself is different. He's a great champion and obviously lots of respect for him,” declared Djokovic after an impeccable week in Paris.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion has headed to London, knowing that 1,500 points are on the table as an undefeated winner.

“Of course, in terms of points, this puts me in a better position after this week. There's always a chance that I win all my matches in London, that I play well. I have done it in the past, and I like playing there,” stated the Serbian, having lifted the ATP Finals trophy four times in London (2012-15) alongside his 2008 victory in Shanghai.

“But it's extremely difficult task considering who my opponents are going to be. You're playing top 10 player every single match. So that's a big task on my end that I have to focus on. Of course, if I manage to get the year-end No.1, that would be fantastic.”

Novak Djokovic's victory at the Rolex Paris Masters 2019©Pauline Ballet/FFT

Djokovic armour

Djokovic dismissed the field in Bercy, serving with mechanical ease and building a wall of defence on the baseline.

The 32-year-old’s polished week without dropping a set delivered a fifth Rolex Paris Masters (2009, 2013-15, 2019), with Corentin Moutet, Kyle Edmund, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Grigor Dimitrov unable to dent the Djokovic armour.

His 77th career title equalled John McEnroe in tied fifth on the ATP all-time leaders within the Open Era.

“Just one of the best matches I have played, definitely, this week. And I feel like the second part of the week was terrific. It was improving day by day for me in terms of level of tennis. And I couldn't be happier with this win,” reflected a delighted Djokovic, speaking after his emphatic 6-3, 6-4 triumph over NextGen prodigy Shapovalov on Sunday.

“I don't try to take them for granted like it's something normal or usual or common. You know, I've been blessed to win so many big titles in my life. And that's one of the biggest reasons, actually, why I'm still playing professional tennis, to fight for these big trophies and to still be able to play on the highest level.”

With Djokovic evidently driven to regain top spot in London, the play in Paris proved that the likes of Nadal and Roger Federer have a formidable task to deny the Serbian.


Ready to displace the Big Three?

Meanwhile, Shapovalov has clicked into a captivating groove under the guidance of Mikhail Youzhny. A maiden ATP title in Stockholm last month, followed by his first Masters 1000 final in Paris, adds his name to potential proteges ready to displace the ‘big three’ in 2020.

“The new generation is already there. Guys like Medvedev and Khachanov and Rublev, the Russians, and Tsitsipas and Zverev and Thiem, Denis, Felix (Auger-Aliassime), this generation, it has already established themselves in the top 20 of the world,” said Djokovic, offering his opinion on when the Next Gen will lift a major.

“Now these guys are starting to believe, more and more, that they can actually fight for the biggest trophies with the other guys. So, I think it's a matter of time, it's a matter of when things come together in terms of experience, in terms of a good given day as well.

“If you have a great week, you can win, you can even win a slam, but then can you really do it consistently throughout your career, year after year. That's probably where very, very few players are able to do that. And for that, it takes a bigger, a more complete package in terms of player and person and dedication and all these different things.”

Djokovic certainly displayed the complete package in Paris, ready to reclaim his crown in London.