Novak Djokovic’s roar of triumph when he completed a 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Monday said a lot about the Serb’s intentions here at the O2 Arena in the ATP World Tour Finals.
It was not just beating Tsonga — he’d done that four times before this year — but the fact that he had got himself back on track after a difficult week in Paris which saw him lose in the first round and make a dash back to Belgrade to visit his ailing father in hospital. Partially because of fatigue or Davis Cup distractions, Djokovic has never done himself justice in these year-end finals and this year he seems intent of proving that he is a worthy No. 1 in the world by carrying off the title next Monday.
Referring to the week in Paris, Djokovic said, “It’s a different story, a different week. I had difficult circumstances, some things I had to face. But that’s why this match tonight was very important for me mentally, you know, to break the ice, to return to the shape I want to be in and also be confident and optimistic on court, to play my game.”
With the big Frenchman in full flow, Djokovic needed to pull out all the stops to win the first set and he did — diving full length a couple of times as he advanced to the net more often than usual. “I don’t usually dive that much,” he admitted. “I don’t usually spend that much time on the net. But I needed to because that opening set obviously could have gone either way. To be quite honest, he was the better player throughout the first set.”
But when Djokovic closed out the tiebreaker 7-4, Tsonga deflated and Djokovic took over. “I had many chances in the first set and I missed again,” said the Frenchman who is here with his new coach, the Australian Roger Rasheed. “He’s taking chance all the time and he’s playing freer in the second set.”
Tsonga was a finalist here last year and is still in the tournament because this eight-man field plays a round-robin format until the knock-out semifinals on Sunday. But he is in the tougher of the two groups and the odds are now heavily on Djokovic and Andy Murray advancing.
Earlier, another packed house of 17,800 saw Murray, the returning hero after winning the US Open, come from a set down to defeat the powerful Czech Tomas Berdych 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Murray and Djokovic will meet on Wednesday and Novak is up for it.
“My next match is against Andy and (he) is always a big challenge,” said the man who lost to the Scot in Flushing Meadows final. “He has had lots of success in London, playing in his town, in front of his crowd, big support, big match. We know a lot about each other. Playing Andy I need to be ready for long rallies and a physically demanding match.”
Murray’s supporters were fearful of the outcome when he missed 10 break points on Berdych’s serve in the first set because seizing opportunities is something that Murray has failed to do in recent weeks (losing three matches in which he held match point). But he hit back well in the second set, quickly gaining a 3-1 advantage as he started to move his big opponent out of his comfort zone with angled returns.
Berdych had a chance to go ahead at the start of the third but Murray held on to complete an important victory. When Murray does get break-point chances, his opponents tend to up their game and Berdych did that here in the first set. “I think if you watched them, he served very well on a lot of the break points, especially in the first set,” Murray said. “Then he started to miss a few first serves which sort of helped me get into the points and find a way of being aggressive whereas some of the time in the first set he just completely overpowered me.”
Roger Federer, who missed Paris to get himself fresh for the defense of his title here, plays Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic in the afternoon match on Tuesday before Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina takes on a man who will have had little time to rest — David Ferrer, the winner of the ATP Masters 1000 in Paris last Sunday.
In the first match of the evening session Monday, the only Americans to have qualified for the ATP Finals this year, Mike and Bob Bryan, did not get off to a good start, losing 7-5, 5-7, 11-9 to the Spanish pair of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez. The Bryans have won this title three times in the past, dating all the way back to their first success in Houston in 2003, and are not out of this yet. With round robin, you always get a second chance.