Commentary

Masters Cup title underscores Djokovic's determination

The sprightly Novak Djokovic was not joking around at the year-end Masters Cup, closing out the season the way it began -- with a meaningful title and the rest of the field fearing the Serbian sensation.

Originally Published: November 17, 2008
By Sandra Harwitt | Special to ESPN.com

Novak DjokovicChina Photos/Getty ImagesNext up for Novak Djokovic is fulfilling his lifetime dream of becoming the world's No. 1 player.
SHANGHAI, China -- As usually happens as an outgrowth of the year-end event there are some closing thoughts: Who were the biggest movers and shakers, and where are they headed as next year is waiting in the wings? Not unexpectedly, 2008 is no exception to the rule, so there are some scenarios to ponder.

The most notable view of 2008 is that Serbia might be a small country, but it's a tennis powerhouse. Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open and year-end Tennis Masters Cup and is ranked No. 3; Nenad Zimonjic won the Wimbledon doubles title, the year-end doubles trophy and finishes the season as the No. 1 doubles player. In the women's game, Jelena Jankovic is the reigning No. 1 with Ana Ivanovic close behind.

The Main Events

Djokovic no Djoke: Around the tour, Novak Djokovic is often referred to as "Djoker," usually as a good-natured nickname. Maybe it's because when in the mood, he has a very funny side as he showed after winning the Tennis Masters Cup on Sunday night. But maybe it's because he does things, such as calling for the trainer at what some players believe is an inopportune time, in a match that leave incredulous observers wondering if he's joking.

To be clear, Djokovic was not joking this week. He came to Shanghai with a purpose.

In this spectacular bookend year, he became the first Serbian man to win a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, and then became the first Serbian not only to compete in the final of year-end tournament, but to win it with a stunning 6-1, 7-5 victory over Nikolay Davydenko. Djokovic cruised through the first set by winning the opening five games before the Russian was on the scoreboard. But in the second set, he double-faulted when attempting to serve out the match at 5-4, although he rectified the situation two games later.

Djokovic's week here sends a message to his colleagues: He might be ranked No. 3, but he has designs to move up in the world.

"I think Serbia's getting used to No. 1s, so I'll have to work on that, I guess," said a smiling Djokovic.

In fact, if he had won his third round-robin match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier in the week, Djokovic would've finished the year at No. 2 and bounced Roger Federer down to No. 3. But you can bet Federer will be looking behind him when 2009 gets under way because Djokovic ends the season only 10 points behind him in the ranking game. And that's got to be too close for comfort for the Swiss master.

"I think the interesting thing for the upcoming year is going to be the fact that there is so many players," Djokovic said. "Now it's not only about the two players anymore; it's about five, six, seven players who are playing really well and can win against each other."

I can't get no satisfaction: Betting is sacrilege around the ATP Tour, especially in connection with Nikolay Davydenko, who was cleared earlier this year of any wrongdoing in an online betting investigation of a match he played in August 2007. But let's be real: Coming into this year's Tennis Masters Cup, there wouldn't have been too many wagers on a Davydenko-Djokovic final.

Davydenko is one of the more consistent players on the tour, evidenced by the 53-19 record he posted in 22 tournaments prior to Shanghai. Only Gilles Simon, of the eight players here, had played more tournaments -- 28 to be exact. Davydenko's statistics show he's won at least 50 matches per season dating back to 2005 and will finish ranked within the top five for the fourth successive year.

Impressive sounding it might be. But Davydenko is still searching for satisfaction at Grand Slams, and alas, he did worse this year than in quite some time. For the first time since 2004, Davydenko was sent packing from all four Slams before the quarterfinals.

[+] EnlargeNikolay Davydenko
China Photos/Getty ImagesNikolay Davydenko was trying to salvage an all-around deflated season but was overmatched by Novak Djokovic in the Masters Cup final.
Being in the final here did not change his opinion that his year was lacking: "OK, final is good for me here. Last tournament. I can now take rest and go on my holiday. But [at the] Grand Slams I didn't play so good, so it's not a good year."

Playing for top honors: In an infrequent turn of events, this year's doubles final at the Tennis Masters Cup had more on the line than capturing the year-end trophy. It was for bragging rights to finish the season as the No. 1 team in the world. The distinction went to the new pairing of Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia, who broke Bob and Mike Bryan's four-year hold on the year-end No. 1 ranking with a 7-6 (3), 6-2 win. The victory makes it two consecutive year-end trophies for Nestor, who paired with former partner Mark Knowles to score the title in 2007.

However, the tandem nearly had to forfeit its spot in the tournament -- and it would've been all Zimonjic's fault. The Serb traveled to Miami following the Paris Indoors event and when getting ready to depart for Shanghai, he couldn't find his passport. Zimonjic frantically called Nestor to tell him to hold off on boarding his flight as he might not be able to make the trip.

Apparently, Zimonjic's passport got left behind with the customs folks in Miami. "I was really lucky to be here because I had some problem with the passport," he said. A good-natured banter ensued between the champions, with Zimonjic claiming the customs officials didn't return his passport to him, while Nestor mused: "He could have asked for it back."

Crisis averted, though, and Nestor believes playing for No. 1 made the final that much more meaningful: "It's the first time in a long time that the No. 1 ranking has been decided in the last match. For doubles, which always takes a little bit of a backseat, that's great for us." Bob Bryan, who after winning the U.S. Open with his brother, sat out playing most of the fall to nurse his sore shoulder, agreed with Nestor. "It's pretty unusual that the No. 1 ranking comes down to one match," said Bryan. "You know, that's probably one in a million. With all the points out there, having it hinge on a few points at the end of the season is pretty amazing."

The victors had a top-notch run this summer, winning the Queen's Club, Wimbledon and Toronto titles in succession.

Side Shows

The heart of a champion: Andy Murray might not be a major champion yet, but he certainly possesses the right attitude. Down to the last match in the Tennis Masters Cup round-robin portion of the competition on Friday, Murray had choices: play his heart out against Roger Federer, or take it easy since he already had earned a spot in the semifinals by virtue of his two previous wins. Murray selected Option 1 and spent a long three hours battling the always determined Federer, who was trying to fight through a back injury to reach the semifinals. As it turned out for Murray, the 4-6, 7-6 (3), 7-5 win over Federer was costly. Clearly dragging on the court, with only 19 hours between matches, Murray had few answers to combat Nikolay Davydenko as he went down 7-5, 6-0 in the semifinals. Afterward, Murray didn't question his decision to play his heart out: "I beat probably the best player of all time. I have no regrets about doing it."

Federer doesn't relish being second best: It would be hard to find a classier guy in the sport of tennis than Roger Federer. Since being dethroned after four years as world No. 1 by Rafael Nadal in August, he has been nothing but gracious in giving the Spaniard his due respect. His deference stems from the fact that the turnover, which he knew would occur one day, happened as he had hoped -- with a player stepping up to earn the top ranking as opposed to his just giving it away. That said, don't in any way be fooled into thinking that because Federer's accepted his fate he appreciates being No. 2. Of his current predicament, Federer said, "I just don't like the ring of it when I'm being introduced on the center court as the No. 2 in the world because it just sounds wrong. Either I'm No. 1 or I'm a Grand Slam champion, but not No. 2, it just sounds awkward to me because I've been up there for so, so long. It's just unfamiliar, but at the same time it is a challenge to get back up there."

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.