PARIS (AP) Novak Djokovic wants to finish ”the best season I’ve ever had” in the perfect way by successfully defending his titles at the Paris Masters and season-ending ATP finals.
The 28-year-old Serb’s list of highlights for 2015 already includes winning nine tournaments, beating a resurgent Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final for his 10th Grand Slam title, and dismantling Rafael Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals.
Just like in 2011, he has won every major of the year except for the French Open, posting a 73-5 record.
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If he wins in Paris next week and then in London for the fourth straight year, Djokovic will have 59 career titles, eight fewer than Nadal. But Federer, who beat Nadal in the final of the Swiss Indoors on Sunday, is some way ahead of them with 88.
Djokovic has a bye into the second round in Paris, where he faces either Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany or Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci for his 79th match of an exhausting season.
He has no intention of easing up, if only out of respect for the fans.
”If I don’t do as well the last two tournaments of course it wouldn’t ruin my season, because I still think it’s the best season I’ve ever had,” Djokovic said Sunday. ”As the No. 1 in the world and defending champion there is an extra responsibility to do well. People watch you play, pay for their tickets. … I love this sport and I have lots of passion to play it.”
Djokovic’s insatiable drive to keep going even when the body is crying out for rest keeps him focused.
”It has a lot to do with your mindset. In terms of the mental part it’s just being able to find new ways of motivating yourself,” he said. ”What allows me to play well consistently in these parts of the season is that, when the Grand Slams are over, I still value the Masters events. It doesn’t make too much difference to me stepping on the court for a Grand Slam final or the Paris Bercy final.”
Surpassing his astonishing form from 2011, where he beat Nadal in six finals and won a career-high 10 titles, takes some doing.
”Winning something like 40-plus matches in a row is something I don’t know I’ll be able to repeat … but this year out of 14 tournaments I’ve played in 13 finals. It’s an unbelievable season,” he said. ”I feel more balanced in my professional and private life being a father and a husband. It all makes more sense and I feel more fulfilled, more mentally and emotionally stable.”
Second-seeded Andy Murray is one of the few to have beaten him this year, and the Briton’s second-round opponent will be 18-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia – a rising star – or Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
Federer, the 2011 winner, and Nadal – who has never won the tournament – are also competing.
With six titles this year, Federer poses perhaps the biggest threat.
The 34-year-old Swiss star withstood Nadal’s comeback to win 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 on Sunday and end a five-match losing streak against the Spaniard, whose three titles so far is his equal-lowest since 2004.
But in Basel, Nadal showed signs that his relentless tenacity is back, beating Lukas Rosol, Grigor Dimitrov, 2014 U.S Open champion Marin Cilic and Richard Gasquet on his way to the final.
”I thought he did tremendously well to be able to come back from a few points (away) from losing the match against Rosol, Dimitrov, Cilic,” Djokovic said. ”I think it’s going to help him mentally the most.”
Murray, a two-time Grand Slam champion, was equally impressed.
”The last few months he’s started winning matches again and the ones he’s been losing, most of them have been very close,” Murray said Sunday. ”He’s getting back close to where he wants to be.”