15 years after Novak Djokovic won his first ATP Finals, he’s still dominant
Not only did he win his first of six ATP Finals, but he started 2008 by taking the Australian Open, the first of his 10 titles and making it 24 majors in total.
In the semi-finals he upset the top seed, Roger Federer, and beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. Djokovic also reached the semifinals at the French Open, where he lost to Rafael Nadal, and the US Open, where he lost to Federer, also in the semifinals. Djokovic was only 21 at the time.
By the end of the season, Djokovic had won two more tournaments, including Masters 1000s in Indian Wells, California, and Rome. That year Djokovic cemented himself as a bona fide member of what was known as the Big Three, along with Federer and Nadal.
“He played like a beast,” Nikolay Davydenko, who beat Djokovic 6-1, 7-5 in the 2008 final in Shanghai, said via email last month. “He is a good runner, had good control and the best concentration on the trip. There was no chance.”
Now, 15 years later, Djokovic, 36, still dominates the sport and enters the finals as the top seed. This year was again one of his best. For the fourth time in his career he won three of the four majors and heads into the ATP Finals with a record of 51-5. Last Sunday, he won his seventh Paris Masters championship and 40th career Masters 1000 title with a straight win over Grigor Dimitrov.
The ATP Finals begin on Sunday at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, Italy, where Djokovic will attempt to win the event for the seventh time ever. His main competition is second seed Carlos Alcaraz, who spoiled Djokovic’s chance of becoming the third man to win a Grand Slam when Alcaraz beat him in the final at Wimbledon in July.
But Alcaraz has not won a tournament since the summer and was forced to pull out of an ATP event in Basel, Switzerland, last month due to foot and back problems. He was then upset in his opening match at the Paris Masters by qualifier Roman Safiullin.
The other six singles players in the round-robin tournament are Daniil Medvedev, Jannik Sinner, Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Holger Rune. Djokovic is the defending champion, having beaten Casper Ruud in the 2022 final.
“Obviously I’ve had a great year so far,” Djokovic said just before the start of the Masters in Paris last month. “I couldn’t have asked for a better season. It’s something I would sign for one match instead of winning the four Slams. [up] right away at the start of the season if someone told me it would be like that.”
Djokovic enters the ATP Finals as the all-time leader in weeks ranked No. 1 with 398. He could reach a milestone of 400 weeks the day after the event ends. He finished the year at No. 1 seven times, one more than Pete Sampras, who did it from 1993-98. He only needs to win one round robin match at the finals to become No. 1 this year, ahead of Alcaraz.
In three of the six years Djokovic won the ATP Finals he finished the year ranked highest. It was the only time his ranking of No. 1 at the end of the year down to the championship match at the ATP Finals in 2016, when he lost to year-end No. 1 Andy Murray.
These days, Djokovic remains motivated by the majors and maintaining his ranking. Stan Wawrinka, who has played Djokovic almost 30 times, knows the vagaries of competing against Djokovic at the year-end championships.
“For me, it was something special to play Novak in the world tour finals,” Wawrinka said of the Paris Masters. “It’s always been a challenge to play him indoors, when he’s really focused and motivated. His game is great on all surfaces, but I’d say indoors, that’s where he’s at his best.”
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