Novak Djokovic burnished his shield of invincibility as the season he regards as his “best ever” rolled on with the momentum of a runaway horse towards its conclusion in London this week.
Roger Federer, meanwhile, looked classy indeed beating a curiously timid Tomas Berdych on Sunday night.
The world No1 set the tone when he opened the third straight defence of his ATP World Tour Finals title with an embarrassingly one-sided dismissal of Kei Nishikori in 65 minutes here in the afternoon, ceding a single game in each set against the only player to take a set off him in the whole tournament last year.
In the other round-robin group Federer, ranked third in the world but hovering on Andy Murray’s shoulder, made short work of Berdych 6-4, 6-2. Murray plays on Monday afternoon against David Ferrer and, having beaten him handily in the Paris Masters, is expected to do so again on an almost identical surface. Thereafter the Scot might at least be tempted to husband his resources for the Davis Cup final at the end of the month. But that is another story altogether.
Djokovic’s convincing win over Nishikori, still lumbered with a leg injury from Bercy, was the 23rd win in a row for the Serb, who has not lost since Murray in Montreal then Federer in Cincinnati briefly interrupted his run to the US Open title in September, his third major of the year. It would be a surprise were he not to lift the trophy again on Sunday, even in a field containing the eight best players in the world.
“I didn’t allow him to dictate the play,” the winner said in towering overstatement of an opponent who won only 32 of the 92 points contested. “I mixed up the pace. I was feeling very comfortable on the court, feeling like I could get most of the balls back. I served efficiently. I mixed up the second serves as well. Didn’t give him really the same look twice. I always tried to change.”
If Jamie Murray and John Peers were to win the doubles title this week, meanwhile, they would create a minor piece of tennis history. They would be the first pairing since 2000 – when Mark Woodforde retired from tennis, allowing Todd Woodbridge to continue to the summit again the following year with Jonas Bjorkman – to split up after finishing the year as the highest-ranked doubles players in the world.
There is a little way to go yet but their 7-6), 3-6, 11-9 win over Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli set the ball rolling nicely. “That’s one down,” Murray said drily. “Try to win the next four.” Simple.
Peers might be leaving his best to last in a partnership that has grown with a pleasing upward curve for the past couple of seasons but is now being terminated by mutual consent. The Australian, whose level dipped in both their slam finals this year, rediscovered some of his best tennis here, complementing his partner’s cat-like sharpness at the net, and looked every bit his equal. complemented his partner’s cat-like sharpness at the net here. They did not have it all their own way, however.
It is hard not to warm to a pair of swashbucklers such as Bolelli and Fognini, the former whose surname sounds like an Italian aperitif, the latter who looks like a pirate on shore leave. Both brought their unique brand of unpredictability to proceedings in the hour and 42 minutes it lasted in front of a near-full house.
They almost blew a 4-1 lead in the second set before finding their rhythm, but Murray and Peers were too precise and disciplined for them in the championship tie-break.
Meanwhile, eyes turn fleetingly to Prague, where the ITF will inform Aljaz Bedene on Tuesday morning if he is eligible to play Davis Cup for Great Britain. The following day, the GB captain, Leon Smith, will announce his squad by email from South America, where he has been watching the clay-court progress of Bedene’s rivals for the second singles place, James Ward and Kyle Edmund, who won a Challenger in Buenos Aires on Sunday to re-enter the top 100.
This would suggest Smith will pick Bedene if he wins his appeal, otherwise turning to the experienced Ward, perhaps, ahead of Edmund – but nothing is certain. Bedene, born in Slovenia 25 years ago and a UK resident since 2008 granted his British passport in March, hopes to be declared eligible for his adopted country, even though he has played three Davis Cup rubbers for the country of his birth.
He is ranked No46 in the world, with Edmund at 110, Ward rated 160, Brydan Klein ranked 174 and the mercurial outsider, Dan Evans, adrift at 271.
Pointedly Bedene hit with Andy Murray on the indoor shale at Queen’s last week, and the world No2 was impressed. “He is very quiet, a hard worker, he just gets on with it,” Murray said. “He doesn’t complain about anything; he has a really good attitude. He is also a fantastic player.”
Brother Jamie also said he would welcome Bedene in the Davis Cup team. These are interesting times all round.
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