No­vak Djokovic loses in quar­ter­fi­nals at Paris Mas­ters

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Five months after his first French Open ti­tle and com­plet­ing a ca­reer Grand Slam in Paris, No­vak Djokovic's reign over men's ten­nis could be about to end in the City of Lights.

Djokovic, a three-time de­fend­ing cham­pion, lost in the Paris Mas­ters quar­ter­fi­nals on Fri­day, leav­ing his No. 1 rank­ing open to be­ing snatched by Andy Mur­ray.

Mur­ray can rise from No. 2 to 1 in the ATP list for the first time if he reaches the fi­nal. The Bri­ton was up against To­mas Berdych late for a semi­fi­nal spot at the in­door tour­na­ment.

So dom­i­nant on the Parisian red clay last June, Djokovic was far from his best on su­per-fast car­pet and was beaten by Marin Cilic 6-4, 7-6 (2), his first loss against the for­mer U.S. Open cham­pion in 15 matchups.

Ham­pered by a lin­ger­ing right hand in­jury, Djokovic made un­char­ac­ter­is­tic mis­takes from the base­line, called the tour­na­ment doc­tor dur­ing the first set, strug­gled with con­sis­tency on his serve, and de­stroyed his hopes of a come­back when he served for the sec­ond set at 5-4, hit two dou­ble faults, and was bro­ken.

He fought un­til the end though, sav­ing two match points in the 12th game with a fine back­hand vol­ley and cross­court fore­hand win­ner, the rare mo­ments when he looked like his usual self. But Cilic, who struck nine aces over­all, served ex­tremely well to pre­vail in the tiebreaker and end Djokovic's 17-match win­ning streak in Paris.

"I wasn't on the level that I could have been on," Djokovic said. "I was also, in this kind of cir­cum­stances and with this level of play, in a good po­si­tion to take the match into the third set, and then two dou­ble faults. Just in im­por­tant mo­ments I wasn't able to de­liver. He is a de­served win­ner."

Djokovic has been the dom­i­nant player for six sea­sons, and held the top spot for 122 con­sec­u­tive weeks.

But his form has been er­ratic over the past few months, and he did not play in Paris with the con­fi­dence he showed here last year, when he crushed Mur­ray 6-2, 6-4 in the fi­nal.

After win­ning the elu­sive French Open for the first time in June, his form yo-yoed.

He lost in the third round at Wim­ble­don to Amer­i­can Sam Quer­rey, and in the first round of the Olympics to Juan Martin del Potro. At the U.S Open, he won the first set in the fi­nal but Stan Wawrinka ral­lied to beat him.

"Of course, there was pride and sat­is­fac­tion in the suc­cess I have had with my team, but in the other hand, it was also very ex­haust­ing," he said. "At a cer­tain point, I had to reach this kind of phase where I had to re­flect and say, 'OK, I have played on the high­est pos­si­ble level for that much.' The drop of form is nor­mal in sports. I'm not too con­cerned about how the fu­ture will go for me."

If he wins the ti­tle, Mur­ray, who has spent 76 weeks at No. 2, will be­come the 26th player to reach No. 1 since the rank­ings started in 1973.

"He's def­i­nitely a player who de­serves that," Djokovic said. "Un­doubt­edly, much re­spect for what he has done. We have known each other since very, very early days. We were, I think, 11 years old when we first played against each other.

“And to see how he has raised his level in the last 12 months is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary."

Cilic, who qual­i­fied for the ATP Fi­nals this week, will take on Amer­i­can John Is­ner in the semi­fi­nals.

Is­ner won a hard-fought al­lAmer­i­can con­test against Jack Sock 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-4 after throw­ing a big tantrum. Is­ner looked set for a straight-sets win when he served a break up at 4-3 in the sec­ond set but lost his cool after a foot-fault call.

Is­ner, who had not dropped his serve once since the start of the week, shouted at um­pire Damien Du­mu­sois, hit a dou­ble fault, and was bro­ken twice in a row.

"I got a bit flus­tered out there. I just haven't seen that type of foot fault called. It was over the cen­ter line," Is­ner said. "The sec­ond set was gone like that (snap­ping fin­gers). That's the first time I have ever had that called on me in my ca­reer. It was a bit of a shock."

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