By Jane Voigt
Clinical. Usually a term assigned to medical matters. But in the case of the tennis today in Shanghai, clinical connoted crisp, classic, and complete.
Although a large percentage of it applied to Novak Djokovic, a feisty Juan Martin del Potro challenged the defending champion to the last ball struck when the No. 1 seed won 61 36 76(3).
Novak showered Del Potro with praise, in his acceptance speech, evoking a laugh from the six-six Argentine when he thought Djokovic was being a bit too excessive. “What can I say,” Novak said, laughing. “I’m trying to be nice to you.” That comic interlude aside, Djokovic’s comments about the tournament were well received and well phrased. He pointed out that this is the fifth consecutive year that the Shanghai event has earned the most votes from players as the best stop on the tour.
With his victory, Djokovic has 15 Masters title — the second of the year. He defeated Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo. Djokovic won The China Open in Beijing last Sunday, as well, making this final his 20th consecutive win in China and 7th title in the country. Del Potro had come off his own title win in Tokyo last Sunday.
No one better described the overall sense of their match than Robbie Koenig, calling it for Tennis Channel … ‘mind boggling stuff.’ This rang true especially in the first set.
Djokovic stripped the Argentine of solid footing in set one by executing elegant and classic tennis, at a level only ascribed to today’s pro game. He quickly went up 2 breaks and finished the set with a third. His ground strokes were consistently deep. He moved a somewhat lethargic Del Potro from corner to corner, forcing errors. Novak’s down-the-line backhand was on and lethally accurate, too. Finally, his timing on the ball robbed his opponent of valuable seconds and probable points.
Yet, in the second set Del Potro surged. He broke the defending champion in his first service game — the first of the tournament. Over the next couple minutes Djokovic literally wobbled. He stumbled once as he struck a forehand approach shot, clipping his toe on a calf. He hit another off-balance forehand that left him on his tippy toes, hips slung foreword and racquet off to one side on the court. Del Potro kept his calm, and crucial break, to win the set.
Del Potro’s fate looked sealed, when he found himself down 2 championship points and tossing his second serve. But he survived to throw the competition into a tiebreak. Yet after a 24-shot rally that Djokovic won, the outcome became more certain.
“You beat me in another big battle,” Del Potro told the audience, bringing back memories of their semifinal epic at Wimbledon. “I’m really proud of you.”
The match was Djokovic’s 60th career final, and the first final between the two men. His victory also piled more reliance on the dominance of the game’s Big Four. Over the last 33 Masters 1000 tournaments, 31 have been won by Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray and Federer. Del Potro attempted to win his first in three trips.