FROM THE ATP WORLD FINAL IN LONDON- It is not often that a six-time Grand Slam champion decides to make big push in the fall. Pete Sampras once did in chasing the year-end No. 1 ranking for the then record sixth time. Guga Kuerten did the same in order to secure the No. 1 ranking for the first time. But why would Novak Djokovic go all out to win match after match in the fall season? Does he believe he’s the legitimate No.1 even though now No. 1 Rafael Nadal won two majors to his one and beat him at both those events, Roland Garros and the US Open. He does not.
“For me, actually it’s a very encouraging circumstances I am in right now the last two months,” said Djokovic who is on a 19 match-winning streak. “I’m playing the best tennis I think I played throughout the whole season. That’s something that I take as a positive for this moment and for obviously next season. I’m definitely feeling confident, more confident than I was a few months ago. And Nadal has ended as world No. 1 in 2013, and he deserves that. No question about it. He won two Grand Slams. He played the best tennis this year.”
Does he think he has something to prove after a spring and summer, which by his standards was a bit sub par? No. What he needed was a bit more confidence, and really a reason to keep playing hard during an important, yet Slam-less stretch. Clearly, he loves to compete because it very rare to see him lose a match early or go down to much lesser players. He can grow visibly frustrated but he keeps at, in a somewhat robotic fashion that can bore fans who like a little more flare, but in an extremely determined and effective way.
“I’m happy to say that I have plenty of motivation regardless of the results that I have because, I’m young, I feel fortunate and blessed to be able to play tennis, the sport that I love,” he said. “I cannot complain. There is plenty of motivation. As long as it’s like that, I’ll be pushing myself every day to work hard and hope that that work will pay off on the court. I did lose two big matches, finals of Wimbledon and US Open, and the one in semifinals of French Open was probably the toughest loss of the year. But that’s sport. You cannot win all the matches. The most important thing is that when you’re down, you stand up and you become stronger. That’s kind of a motto that I have”
With his 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory over Argentine Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday, Djokovic has qualified for the ATP Finals for the fourth time. He was slightly more advantageous that then Argentine, but there really wasn’t much between them. One break in the first for Djokovic, one in the second for Del Potro, and a final one in the third for Djokovic at 3-2 in the third set when he flubbed three forehands. He may serve bigger than the Serb and strike his forehand harder, but he’s a lesser player because he can’t match Djokovic’s speed, his backhand, his return, his volley and his consistency.
Del Potro will now face Roger Federer for the second spot in the semifinals. The Swiss bested Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-3, who has had a solid year, but he doesn’t really look like he came into the event with enough confidence to be able to upend the big boys. As is frequently the case, he was terribly erratic when it mattered. Federer owns a 14-5 record against Del Potro, but has lost three of their of their last four matches. However, he did turn the tables on the taller man in Bercy last week after Del Potro had just stopped him in the final of Basel. They played in the round robin portion of the ATP finals last year, with Del Potro wining a three setter. He is more confident than Federer is overall this year, but the Swiss has owned this tournament before and has the potential to catch fire in front of a London crowd that absolutely adores him. Or he could become curiously unraveled like he has on too many occasion this season. They will face off on Saturday afternoon in a match that will add a final coat of thick paint to one of their seasons.