No­vak’s back, but is he still the Shang­hai Mas­ter?

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

No­vak Djokovic re­turns from in­jury at this week’s Shang­hai Mas­ters with the eyes of the ten­nis world on his form and mo­ti­va­tion as his world num­ber one spot comes un­der threat from Andy Mur­ray.

The Serb has been a peer­less per­former in China, and when he won his third Shang­hai Mas­ters ti­tle last year he was putting the fin­ish­ing touches on one of the best ten­nis sea­sons in history.

But since com­plet­ing a ca­reer Grand Slam at the French Open in June, it has been a trou­bled pe­riod for the 12-time ma­jor win­ner who ad­mit­ted he had lost his love for the game.

Djokovic fell in Wim­ble­don’s third round and, tear­fully, in the first round at the Rio Olympics, be­fore go­ing down to his bete noire Stan Wawrinka in the US Open fi­nal.

The Serb, who has spo­ken of “pri­vate is­sues”, quit his usual res­i­dence in Monte Carlo to re­turn to his na­tive Bel­grade, re­veal­ing that he wasn’t “very well at an emo­tional level”.

“I nei­ther want to think nor to talk about the num­ber one po­si­tion, nor to win tour­na­ments or Grand Slams,” Djokovic told re­porters in the Ser­bian cap­i­tal. Wrist prob­lems ham­pered him in New York. He then pulled out of this month’s China Open in Bei­jing, where he was un­beaten in four ap­pear­ances, with an el­bow in­jury.

Djokovic will need to get quickly back into his stride as Mur­ray, fresh from suc­ceed­ing the Serb as the China Open cham­pion late on Sun­day, bears down on him in the rank­ings.

Mur­ray beat Grigor Dim­itrov 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) for his fifth ti­tle of the year after al­ready win­ning his sec­ond Wim­ble­don crown and be­com­ing the first back-to­back Olympic cham­pion.

Mur­ray had sym­pa­thy for Djokovic, his con­tem­po­rary and spar­ring part­ner since their teenage years, say­ing his loss of mo­ti­va­tion was “com­pletely un­der­stand­able”.

“A lot of play­ers have gone through that. It can hap­pen at dif­fer­ent stages,” said the 29-year-old sec­ond seed.

“When you achieve some­thing that you’ve wanted to achieve for such a long time and put so much ef­fort and thought into that, and come close a num­ber of times and not quite done it, I think when you fi­nally do it, you feel in­cred­i­ble for a num­ber of days after­wards. “But there can be a low after that. It would be com­pletely un­der­stand­able to have those feel­ings. I’m sure a lot of play­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced that at dif­fer­ent stages after big wins in their ca­reer. I think it’s quite nor­mal.”

One pos­si­ble ob­sta­cle in Djokovic’s half of the draw is Rafael Nadal, al­though the 14-time Grand Slam-win­ner is fight­ing to prove he’s still a force at the top of the game.

With two ti­tles to his name this year, plus fourth place at the Rio Olympics, the 30-year-old Spa­niard is head­ing for his small­est tro­phy haul in a sea­son since 2004. Aus­tralia’s often-con­tro­ver­sial Nick Kyr­gios comes to Shang­hai in hot form after win­ning his third tour­na­ment of the sea­son at the Ja­pan Open on Sun­day. And ‘Stan­i­mal’ Wawrinka, the world num­ber three and US Open cham­pion, is re­turn­ing to ac­tion after los­ing the St. Peters­burg fi­nal to Ger­many’s Alexan­der Zverev, 19.

Zverev, dubbed “the fu­ture of ten­nis” by Wawrinka, con­tin­ued his up­ward tra­jec­tory on Monday when he over­pow­ered Amer­ica’s John Is­ner 6-4, 6-2 in the first round.

Ninth seed Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga, last year’s beaten fi­nal­ist, romped into the sec­ond round with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Ger­man’s Flo­rian Mayer. —AFP

HANOVER: Ger­many’s de­fender Mats Hum­mels warms up dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion in Hanover, Ger­many yes­ter­day on the eve of the WC 2018 foot­ball qual­i­fi­ca­tion match be­tween Ger­many and Noth­ern Ire­land. — AFP

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