Djoker not sorry

> Ser­bian de­fend­ing his ac­tions af­ter hit­ting ball to­wards en­tourage dur­ing open­ing vic­tory

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY PAUL NEW­MAN

THE emo­tions and the ten­sions that swirl around in­side Novak Djokovic of­ten ap­pear to be on the brink of ris­ing to the sur­face and they broke out twice at the O2 Arena in Lon­don as the Serb fought back to beat Do­minic Thiem 6-7, 6-0, 6-2 in the open­ing match of his de­fence of his ti­tle at the Bar­clays ATP World Tour Fi­nals.

For much of the last five months Djokovic has seen some of his most trea­sured ten­nis pos­ses­sions slip from his grasp, from his Wim­ble­don and US Open ti­tles to the world No 1 rank­ing, and his frus­tra­tions were ev­i­dent at the end of a first set in which he had made too many un­forced er­rors and had not struck the ball with his usual con­sis­tency.

Djokovic’s emo­tions boiled over when he smashed a ball in anger in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of his en­tourage. His ac­tions earned a warn­ing for un­sports­man­like con­duct and could have had a much more se­ri­ous con­se­quence if the ball had hit any­body, but at least they seemed to fo­cus his mind on the task in hand.

The for­mer world No. 1 was then in a tetchy mood when asked about the in­ci­dent at his post-match press con­fer­ence, say­ing it was “un­be­liev­able” that reporters were “al­ways pick­ing th­ese kind of things”.

When it was pointed out to him that he had been for­tu­nate at the French Open ear­lier this year not to hit a line judge af­ter throw­ing his racket in anger, Djokovic asked if he was the only player who ever showed his frus­tra­tion on court. He in­sisted: “It’s not an is­sue for me. It’s not the first time I did it.”

Did he not think the con­se­quence could have been se­ri­ous if the ball had hit some­one? “It could have been, yes,” Djokovic replied. “It could have snowed in the O2 Arena as well, but it didn’t.”

He added: “I had made a great come­back, sav­ing six or seven set points, and then when I didn’t man­age to win that first set, of course you’re frus­trated.

“On the other hand, I think I man­aged to com­pose my­self and re­ally gather all my at­ten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion to what was com­ing up af­ter that. The great start of the sec­ond set helped me to re­group.”

Djokovic, who is aim­ing to win the sea­son-end­ing ti­tle for the fifth year in a row, was im­me­di­ately more fo­cused from the start of the sec­ond set as Thiem faded fast on his maiden ap­pear­ance in this tour­na­ment.

The 23-year-old Aus­trian’s per­for­mance was a re­flec­tion of his year. Only Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray have won more matches in the course of the sea­son than the youngest player in the Lon­don field, but com­pet­ing in more tour­na­ments (27) than any other player has ap­peared to take its toll of late. Thiem won the last of his four 2016 ti­tles in June.

Djokovic’s year has fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern, but the Serb has more to play for this week. If he wins ev­ery match to claim the ti­tle for a sixth time, which would equal Roger Fed­erer’s record, Djokovic would take the world No. 1 rank­ing back from Mur­ray, who played his open­ing match on Monday evening (early Tues­day morn­ing in Malaysia) against Marin Cilic.

The first set was tight, with only one break point apiece, but with Thiem find­ing a good rhythm on his po­tent sin­gle-handed back­hand it was the Aus­trian who dom­i­nated the tie- break, even if he took his time clinch­ing it. Serv­ing at 6-3, Thiem hit two suc­ces­sive dou­ble faults. Four more set points came and went be­fore he took the tie-break 12-10 with a big fore­hand win­ner.

How­ever, no sooner had the door opened for Thiem, who had not won a set in his pre­vi­ous three meet­ings with Djokovic, than it was promptly shut in his face. Djokovic took the sec­ond set in just 23 min­utes, went up an early break in the third and quickly closed out vic­tory.

“Even though I lost the first set, I thought I didn’t do too many things wrong,” Djokovic said.

“Af­ter that I knew it would be cru­cial for me to start with a break at the start of the sec­ond set, which I did. I felt more com­fort­able. I started swing­ing more freely in the sec­ond set. I ob­vi­ously made him play an ex­tra shot and he started mak­ing more er­rors.”

Thiem, who met the watch­ing Manch­ester United man­ager Jose Mour­inho af­ter the match, ad­mit­ted that he had “lost a lit­tle bit of en­ergy” af­ter the open­ing set.

“I couldn’t quite keep the level up from the first set,” he said. – The In­de­pen­dent

Ser­bia’s Novak Djokovic re­turns to Aus­tria’s Do­minic Thiem (not in pic­ture) dur­ing their round robin stage men’s sin­gles match on day one of the ATP World Tour Fi­nals ten­nis tour­na­ment in Lon­don yes­ter­day. –

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