Rogers Cup Review Novak Djokovic Staying Strong at No.1 His Rivals Still Have Far to Go

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Photo courtesy of infotel.ca

Novak Djokovic’s run to the Rogers Cup 2016 title was a firm reassertion of his grip on the No.1 ranking and reminded the tennis world that when it comes to being the best in the game he is not going anywhere soon while his rivals still have a long road ahead of them.

When Novak Djokovic went out in this season’s Wimbledon third round to Sam Querrey, and Andy Murray went on to take the title, it looked like the world No.1 might find himself seriously challenged for the first time since Roger Federer had the top ranking in his sights in the Summer of 2014.

At the Rogers Cup, Djokovic, at times, looked like he was still suffering whatever it was- injury or letdown or both- that saw him go from winning four straight slam titles to losing in the third round of Wimbledon, the Slam at which he was the two-time defending champion.

Despite his struggles, however, at the Rogers Cup, the world No.1 managed to get past Gilles Muller 7-5, 7-6 (3), defeated qualifier Radek Stepanek 6-2, 6-4, saved three set points in the opening tiebreaker to Tomas Berdych before winning 7-6 (6), 6-4, beat the in-form Gael Monfils 6-3, 6-2, and straight setted Kei Nishikori in the final 6-3, 7-5.

That’s a fine line of potential minefields for the world No.1 – a big server, the kind Djokovic struggles against; an attacking player who can take away his rhythm; one of the tour veterans whose big hitting clean game could be designed to hit through him on fast hard courts; one of the game’s most athletic shot-makers in some career best form; and the best of the next-in-line, Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open finalist, who beat the Serbian on his run to that final.

Tennis may not have had Andy Murray who defeated Djokovic in last year’s Rogers Cup final or Roger Federer to throw at Djokovic in Toronto, but the sport had the best on offer from one of the most damaging serves, one of the cleanest hitters, to one of the most recent ATP champions. Yet it was not quite good enough to get the better of the game’s best. In fact, with none of Djokovic’s rivals taking even a set from him, despite having their chances, it was nowhere near good enough.

Djokovic now holds the No.1 ranking with 16, 040 points, while Murray has 10, 065. The world No.3 Roger Federer has 5, 945 points, but with his season  over, the next active player behind the current world No.1 and 2 is Stan Wawrinka with 5, 035.

With Murray trailing by close to 6000 points, he would need, in order to get anywhere near to the ATP’s top spot, to have a stellar last third run of the season, with Djokovic’s best stretch, Beijing to Miami, coming up.

The Scot’s only chance would come if Djokovic’s Wimbledon defeat was the first tumble in a sharp fall from one of the highest peaks, ranking points wise, any player has ever reached.

Unfortunately for Murray, Djokovic showed in Toronto that the Wimbledon loss was both a slip up and just what Djokovic needed- the motivation to further tighten his grip on the world No.1 ranking at a time when the man who now, with the French Open trophy in his cabinet, has pretty much everything a tennis player could want.

That grip was as tight as it has ever been in Toronto. Despite struggling with his serve until the final, and rumors of a shoulder injury doing the rounds all week, Djokovic was still solid enough from the back of the court, and tactically sound enough, to defeat players who can trouble him, but for whom he is not just trouble but something altogether more diabolical.

In the semi-final versus Monfils, the Frenchman played him into form, and in the final, Djokovic played the kind of match we have seen him play over and over in 2015 and 2016 in an ATP 1000 decider, a period in which he has now won ten ATP 1000 titles, (a third of his current record haul of 30). The No.1 paced himself perfectly, read his opponent like a book, and never took his eye off the job of being tennis’ world No.1. Djokovic did get into some bother after breaking to lead by a set and a break when the Japanese broke back and began to make a contest of it, but the top seed got straight back to work and never let Nishikori do anything more than pose a temporary threat.

We will never know if things would have been different had Murray been in the draw. Murray may be a better fast court player than Djokovic on his day, but it is the world No.1 who is better day in day out, who has four titles in Toronto and Dubai, three Shanghai trophies, two US Open titles, and three Wimbledon titles. Djokovic is one of the greatest hard court, (fast, medium, or slow), players in tennis history, and with something to prove after the Wimbledon loss, and talk of Murray on the road to dethrone him, a final versus Murray may have been a return to another kind of habit for the ATP 1000 title collecting Djokovic, that of being the man to defeat Murray in an important ATP match.

All we know from Toronto is that Djokovic is still playing like the world No.1, and does not look like going anywhere anytime soon while his opponents eyeing up his top spot still have a very long road to travel.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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