Im­pe­ri­ous Djokovic wins 5th Paris Mas­ters and 77th ti­tle

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - AP Sports Writer

By JEROME PUGMIRE

PARIS >> No­vak Djokovic looked im­pe­ri­ous in beat­ing an over­awed De­nis Shapo­valov 6-3, 6-4 Sun­day to win his fifth Paris Mas­ters fi­nal, clinch­ing a 34th over­all Mas­ters ti­tle in fine style to move one be­hind record holder Rafael Nadal.

At 32 years old, Djokovic has al­ready won 77 ti­tles in a stel­lar ca­reer and fully in­tends to add many more.

“I don’t take them for granted like it’s some­thing nor­mal or usual or com­mon. I’ve been blessed to win so many big ti­tles in my life,” he said. “That’s one of the big­gest rea­sons why I’m still play­ing pro­fes­sional tennis, to fight for these big tro­phies and to still be able to play the high­est level.”

Shapo­valov was mostly out­classed, even though he was phys­i­cally fresh hav­ing avoided a po­ten­tially gru­el­ing semi­fi­nal be­cause the se­cond-ranked Nadal pulled out be­fore­hand with an ab­dom­i­nal strain.

Still, the odds were heav­ily stacked against the 20-year-old Cana­dian, who was ap­pear­ing in his first Mas­ters fi­nal.

“I put him un­der pres­sure for the se­cond serve and from the back of the court I was solid, not giv­ing him too many op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Djokovic, who felt un­well with a sore throat ear­lier in the week. “I feel like the se­cond part of the week was ter­rific, it was im­prov­ing day by day in terms of my level.”

Djokovic never ap­peared trou­bled on his way to a fifth ATP ti­tle this year — level best with Do­minic Thiem.

He served out the match with a love hold, hit­ting a fore­hand win­ner be­fore turn­ing to look at his box and rais­ing his arms in tri­umph.

“It was my best serv­ing per­for­mance of the tour­na­ment,” Djokovic said. “De­nis maybe lost his fo­cus a bit.”

Shapo­valov en­tered the match with only one ca­reer ti­tle — a mod­est ATP 250-level tour­na­ment in Stock­holm last month — and hav­ing lost his three pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters against a 16-time Grand Slam win­ner con­sid­ered among the all-time greats of tennis.

The big-serv­ing left han­der looked tense, mak­ing three un­forced er­rors in his first ser­vice game and slip­ping quickly to 3-0 down against a com­posed Djokovic play­ing in his 50th Mas­ters fi­nal and 111th over­all. Af­ter botch­ing a re­turn on Djokovic’s open­ing serve of the sev­enth game he whacked his racket into the ground in frus­tra­tion.

Drop­ping only four points on his serve in the first set, Djokovic clinched it with an­other dom­i­nant serv­ing game which in­cluded two aces and con­cluded with a volleyed win­ner at the net.

“It was tough for me to find a groove just be­cause he was re­ally pick­ing his spots on the serve,” Shapo­valov said. “He just places it well, it’s tough to read.”

As Shapo­valov’s un­forced er­rors resur­faced in the sev­enth game, Djokovic broke him again for a 4-3 lead.

Djokovic saved his first break point of the match at 30-40 in the next game when Shapo­valov re­turned a sliced serve well wide.

With that, the briefest glim­mer of hope was gone.

“I’m sure the best things are yet to come for you,” Djokovic said to Shapo­valov dur­ing the tro­phy cer­e­mony.

Kind words, yet the gap to Djokovic’s level re­mains huge.

“It’s great to hear that, but I still have a long way to go,” Shapo­valov said. “I want to be beat­ing guys like

No­vak so I have to im­prove, find a way to re­turn bet­ter.”

Djokovic has won every fi­nal he’s played at Bercy Arena ex­cept for last year’s against Karen Khachanov, which came af­ter a three-hour semi­fi­nal slugfest against 20-time Grand Slam cham­pion Roger Fed­erer.

This year, Djokovic did not drop a set and heads to the up­com­ing ATP Fi­nals in Lon­don look­ing to se­cure the year-end­ing No. 1 rank­ing for a sixth time. That would move him two ahead of Nadal, one ahead of Fed­erer and Jimmy Con­nors, and into a tie with record-holder Pete Sam­pras.

Nadal is also in strong con­tention to fin­ish the year as No. 1 but it re­mains un­cer­tain whether the Spaniard can play at the ATP Fi­nals, which start Nov. 10.

“I’m sad to see that he’s in­jured be­cause that’s not what you want to see. I know how that feels,” said Djokovic, who strug­gled nearly two years with an el­bow in­jury. “His­tor­i­cally he’s had sev­eral in­juries at the last part of the sea­son, so I hope he can re­cover. Be­cause with­out him, ob­vi­ously the bat­tle for No. 1, but also the tour­na­ment it­self, is dif­fer­ent.”

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