Two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic extended his indoor winning streak with an impressive 6-1, 6-1 win over Marin Cilic Monday in his opening round-robin match at the ATP World Tour Finals, after Stan Wawrinka put his recent struggles behind him with an equally comfortable victory.
Djokovic moved two wins away from sealing the year-end No. 1 spot, and improved his record against the U.S. Open champion to 11-0 with a dominant display that lasted only 56 minutes.
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The O2 Arena crowd was treated to several stunning rallies in the opening stages, with Djokovic coming out on top on every important point. The top-ranked Serb has now won his last 28 matches indoors, a streak going back more than two years.
"I give myself a lot of time to prepare for these events, for indoor tournaments. I enjoy them," Djokovic said. "Considering how long the season is, everybody is mentally, physically, emotionally tired and exhausted. But this is where you have to find your last drop of strength and motivation to finish off the year in style."
The top-ranked Serb will next take on Wawrinka, who made the most of Tomas Berdych’s error-laced performance in a 6-1, 6-1 win earlier Monday.
Djokovic read Cilic’s serve well and broke at love for a 4-1 lead after hitting two sumptuous forehand passing shots, then clinched the set after Cilic buried a backhand in the net.
After dropping his serve immediately at the start of the second set, Cilic broke back to stay in the match but his resurgence was short-lived as Djokovic won the next four games.
"From my own side, it’s my first time being here," said Cilic, one of the three debutants in London. "Also, I felt that Novak played really, really solid today. In some matches, the score just keeps running. You are thinking a lot. You are always trying to find something. But whatever you try, it’s not working."
Djokovic, who is bidding to finish the season as No. 1 for the third time, will be guaranteed the top spot if he wins his remaining two round-robin matches against Wawrinka and Berdych.
Wawrinka was almost as impressive against Berdych, outclassing his Czech opponent with a range of backhand and volley winners. He was also aided by Berdych’s abject display, as the sixth-seeded heavy hitter lost his opening match at the season-ending tournament for the fifth time in as many attempts.
"Unfortunately, it was my worst match of the whole season, and I kept it for the start here in the World Tour Finals," Berdych said. "I did not feel anything good today."
Wawrinka traveled to London with his form in question after winning only two matches since his quarterfinal exit at the U.S. Open, and struggling to play as freely as he did earlier this season.
"My recent losses really hurt me," said the Australian Open champion, who also won his first Masters title at Monte Carlo this year. "But I kept working hard at training and I never panicked. I knew my game was there. It was more the mental side that I needed to improve."
Wawrinka immediately put Berdych on the back foot, winning five consecutive games to take the first set after dropping only three points on his service games.
Berdych, who had 20 unforced errors, fought harder at the start of the second set but dropped his serve after a tight third game and never recovered.
"When I feel good on the court, I’m ready to beat anybody" said Wawrinka, who had never lost just two games against a Top-10 opponent in 34 wins. "But I did not expect to win so easily."
After the round-robin stage, the top two finishers in each group will advance and Berdych has few illusions about his chances of progressing.
"I’m in the worst possible situation that I can ever be," he said. "I’m going to face Marin or Novak first, in the end playing both of them, and the only chance to qualify is to beat them, it’s almost mission impossible."
Wawrinka’s strong display will also reassure the Swiss team ahead of the Davis Cup final against France from Nov. 21-23 in Lille, where he will be teaming up with Roger Federer.