Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2018 Rolex Shanghai Masters.
In the end, maybe we’ll have been proven right all along?
In our very first column of this month, we had pondered who on the men’s side would finish the 2018 season as the year-end World No. 1 and, due to the fact that he was playing extremely well and that he had absolutely nothing to defend left from the 2017 season, Novak Djokovic had emerged as both the smart and fun bet to return to the mountaintop and the year-end No. 1 ranking.
The 31-year-old was ranked No. 3 then, and now today he’s at No. 2. One down, one to go?
Over the weekend, Djokovic captured the fourth Rolex Shanghai Masters, and 32nd Masters 1000 title overall, of his career by defeating Borna Coric by the final score of 6-3 and 6-4.
This result, obviously, sat well with the one at the forefront. “It’s phenomenal. I’m very proud of it,” Djokovic said. “Obviously the last three, four months have been terrific for me. Not many holes in the game in general, especially this week. Everything worked perfectly.”
Now with 18 straight wins in a row and 27 in his previous 28 matches, Djokovic has turned back the clock to, say, 2012 or 2013 when he was the most destructive force and the toughest assignment on tour.
The time for longer analysis and contextualization will come but for now let’s rejoice in the fact that the Djoker accomplished it all in more or less half a season: let’s not forget that he had started this season with a forgettable and frankly bad 6-6 record and had to his name a lone final played—not won—at the forgettable Fever-Tree Championships. Back then, Djokovic seemed like he was out of sorts: he couldn’t stay healthy, motivated or both at once, and kept trying to reinvent his coaching team.
But then came Wimbledon, and it’s mostly been gravy ever since for the Djoker. A great return for the Serb, who was more or less dead and buried just a few months ago? You bet.
Just asked Marian Vajda what comes to his mind when he sees Novak’s journey since they’ve been reunited: « It’s a miracle! ». Added: « Inalways had that belief in him. » #HappyCoach
— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) October 14, 2018
He’s not No. 1, not yet, but it does feel like an almost foregone conclusion that he’ll get there and overtake Rafael Nadal: now just 35 points behind the Spaniard for the Race to London, and 215 overall, Djokovic is also most importantly the man playing the best tennis in the world.
As we’ve written, he is the rare player who, when he’s right, makes the sport feel like a deeply complicated math equation—only he’s the one with the answers booklet.
The ones left fuming, this morning as well as since the summer, have to be the handful of promising youngsters seemingly constantly on the verge of arriving on the big stage. Over the past four or five seasons, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have each been declared dead and that their career was at long last over. And every time, the trio answered with a resounding proof that they were still plenty fine, thanks for asking, but your time will surely come, Mr. Dominic Thiem, Denis Shapovalov or Stefanos Tsitsipas, thanks for asking. Maybe. One day.
This Masters offered yet another proof of that, with 21-year-olds Alexander Zverev and Coric making the final four and the latter even defeating Federer to reach the final…where he was pummelled by Djokovic.
In the end, maybe the youngsters can take solace in the fact that what was first a quatuor now seems only a triumvirate: because Andy Murray does appear to be finished.
One timeless player gone at a time.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG