Djokovic un­der threat from Mur­ray head­ing into this week’s Paris Masters

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

No­vak Djokovic heads into the Paris Masters with his No. 1 rank­ing un­der se­ri­ous threat from Andy Mur­ray, and in the rare po­si­tion of be­ing sec­ond favourite.

Djokovic is look­ing to win the tour­na­ment for the fourth straight year and fifth time over­all. But he has been in er­ratic form over the past few months and is not play­ing with the con­fi­dence he showed here last year, when he crushed Mur­ray 6-2, 6-4 in the fi­nal.

On cur­rent form Mur­ray has the edge, and the sec­on­dranked Scot can over­take Djokovic if he wins and the Serb doesn’t reach the fi­nal.

“You’ve got to give him (Mur­ray) credit for what he’s done in the last three or four months, the sec­ond part of the year is quite in­cred­i­ble,” Djokovic told re­porters Sun­day on the eve of the tour­na­ment. “He’s play­ing maybe the best ten­nis he’s ever played, very con­sis­tent, very strong. He def­i­nitely de­serves to be in the po­si­tion of be­ing No. 1 at the end of the year. But that doesn’t just de­pend on him.”

Djokovic guar­an­tees to keep No. 1 if he reaches the fi­nal, and Mur­ray is not overly op­ti­mistic of knock­ing him off his perch.

“Ob­vi­ously he could win the event and, if I lose in the first round, then I am a long way from be­ing No. 1,” said Mur­ray, who trails Djokovic 10-24 in ca­reer matches. “I’ve never won (the Paris Masters) be­fore, so to just ex­pect that you’re go­ing to win the tour­na­ment would be silly.”

Mur­ray won the Erste Bank Open in Vi­enna on Sun­day for his third straight tour­na­ment win and ca­reer-high seventh of the year.

“In some other years, a year like this would eas­ily (have) been enough to be No. 1 in the world,” Mur­ray said. “But I am ob­vi­ously get­ting closer.”

Mur­ray, who has a first-round bye, will start his tour­na­ment against Spa­niard Fer­nando Ver­dasco or Dutch­man Robin Haase.

Like Mur­ray, Djokovic also has seven ti­tles this year, match­ing his tally from 2013 and 2014, but will fall short of the 11 he won in an ut­terly dom­i­nant 2015.

The 29-year-old Djokovic owns a record 30 Masters ti­tles. He is a 12-time Grand Slam cham­pion and has won all four ma­jors.

But af­ter win­ning the elu­sive French Open for the first time in June, his form evap­o­rated.

“Win­ning the French Open brought a lot of joy to me, but on the other hand has taken away a lot from me,” he said. “I felt a lit­tle bit ex­hausted, I must say, and maybe less mo­ti­vated. So I had to re­dis­cover that feel­ing of be­ing on the court and push­ing my­self.”

He lost in the third round at Wim­ble­don to Amer­i­can Sam Quer­rey and in the first round to Juan Martin Del Potro of Ar­gentina at the Olympic Games.

Although Djokovic won the first set in the US Open fi­nal, Stan Wawrinka ral­lied to beat him.

At the Shang­hai Masters two weeks ago, Djokovic lost 6-4, 64 in the semi­fi­nals to Spa­niard Roberto Bautista Agut, an op­po­nent he had beaten in five pre­vi­ous meet­ings.

“The last cou­ple of months were not easy,” Djokovic said. “Men­tally I just had to re­de­fine my goals, things that are hap­pen­ing on and off the court.”

Djokovic clearly needed to gather his thoughts.

“It’s im­por­tant to take time,” he said. “Re­ally un­der­stand what the next step is go­ing to be, professionally, pri­vately.” He feels much bet­ter now. “I feel great and re­ju­ve­nated, very happy to be back in the city where I have won­der­ful mem­o­ries,” he said. “It gives me a lot of emo­tions and but­ter­flies in my stom­ach when I think about the last time I was here.”

Djokovic, who also won here in 2009, faces ei­ther Ni­co­las Al­ma­gro of Spain or Gilles Muller of Lux­em­bourg in the sec­ond round.

Mi­los Raonic, who also has a first-round bye, is still feel­ing the ef­fects of an­kle in­jury that forced him to with­draw ahead of his China Open semi­fi­nal three weeks ago.

“It’s a par­tial tear,” said the big-serv­ing Cana­dian. “It’s still a lit­tle bit of an is­sue ... I tape it up to limit how much my an­kle can move.”

Andy Mur­ray fi­nally has a chance to be­come No. 1

By the end of the week, Andy Mur­ray could be­come the topranked player in the world for the first time in his ca­reer.

Ever since he first reached No. 2 in the ten­nis rank­ings seven years ago, the 29-yearold Mur­ray has been try­ing to catch the likes of Roger Fed­erer, Rafael Nadal and No­vak Djokovic. The No. 1 rank­ing is fi­nally within touch­ing dis­tance, and he will re­place Djokovic at the top if he wins the Paris Masters and Djokovic fails to reach the fi­nal.

Mur­ray is try­ing not to think about it too much.

“It’s not in my con­trol ... Even if I win all of my matches this week, I still might not get there,” Mur­ray said Mon­day. “It’s in No­vak’s hands.

“I don’t feel any dif­fer­ently now to how I did six, eight weeks ago. My goal wasn’t to fin­ish No. 1 at the end of this year,” Mur­ray said. “There (was) a lot stronger chance of do­ing it in the early part of next year, which is what I (had) tar­geted — rather than this week.”

Mur­ray and Djokovic both have won seven ti­tles this sea­son - a ca­reer-best for Mur­ray.

If he does reach the top, Mur­ray would be­come the old­est first-time No. 1 since John New­combe achieved it at the age of 30 in June 1974.

Photo: AP

No­vak Djokovic of Ser­bia looks at his op­po­nent Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain dur­ing their match at the re­cent Shang­hai Masters

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