Djokovic claims 4th career title at Sony Ericsson Open
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Novak Djokovic whacked the tournament's final shot for a winner, then collapsed on his back, sprawled at the baseline.
Djokovic rose to embrace his opponent and climbed into the stands to hug his parents. He returned to the court and threw his shirt and racket to the cheering crowd.
The kid plays with flair and celebrates the same way.
Djokovic succeeded where Roger Federer failed, beating qualifier Guillermo Canas 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 Sunday to win the Sony Ericsson Open.
Canas upset the top-ranked Federer twice last month, including in the fourth round Tuesday. But the 29-year-old Argentine's relentless baseline game failed to faze the 19-year-old Djokovic, who dominated with his versatile shotmaking and held every service game.
"I hope this is only the start," said Djokovic, runner-up at Indian Wells, Calif., two weeks ago. "I was always trying to compare myself to the best players in the world, because that's what I want to be. Right now I feel like probably for the first time in my career I'm on that level, that I deserve to be one of the three best players in the world."
Seeded 10th, Djokovic will improve to a career-high No. 7 in the rankings Monday. With his first ATP Masters Series title, the slender Serb became the youngest men's champion in the tournament's 23-year history.
It was the second title of the season for Djokovic and fourth of his young career.
Djokovic won every set he played -- the first time the Key Biscayne men's champion has done that since Ivan Lendl in 1989.
"Tennis has a new star today," tournament chairman Butch Buchholz said. "He's going to be around."
Djokovic has already put Serbia back on the tennis map. The nation touts a modest tennis tradition aside from Monica Seles, a nine-time Grand Slam champion who was in the crowd Sunday.
"I'm very happy about that because she was one of my idols when I was young," Djokovic said.
The crowd roared when Djokovic skipped a forehand winner off the baseline on match point, and his exuberant celebration kept the cheers coming. Once he was shirtless, he waved his racket in several directions before throwing it to a delighted young woman in the front row.
"It was a very emotional moment for me," Djokovic said. "I was thinking even to put away my shoes and shorts and everything. But I said, OK, television is here, so I'll keep that."
Canas applauded the young champion.
"He's a great player," Canas said. "If he continues like this, he's going to be one of the top three or four players very, very soon."
Canas can take consolation in a career resurgence. Ranked as high as eighth before serving a 15-month doping suspension that ended last summer, he was 143rd at the start of the year but will climb to about 31st.
"I'm very happy now, but hopefully more happy moments are going to come for me," Canas said. "Now everybody knows I'm back on the tour."
"He has been through a tough period," Djokovic said. "He came back. Well done. He's a great player."
Most of the accolades, however, went to Djokovic. He mixed pace, spins and angles so well that some of his shots were beyond reach even for Canas, whose forte is fetching. The Serb's repertoire ranged from 130 mph serves to feathery drop shots, including one to end the match's longest game.
That game in the second set lasted 20 minutes and 22 points and included an important replay reversal. Djokovic hit a shot ruled wide that would have given Canas a service break for 3-all, but the review led the umpire to order the point replayed.
Djokovic saved two more break points in the game, including one by outlasting Canas in a 37-shot rally, and eventually held for 4-2.
"It was really long, and really important for me to win that game," Djokovic said. "It was probably a turning point. It's very important to stay very calm and mentally strong. I managed to do that."
Djokovic faced only two other break points and erased them. He lost serve just once in 59 games in the tournament.
Even as he pulled away, Djokovic's teenage temper occasionally showed. He twice threw his racket and once slammed a ball into the net. He hardly had cause for anger, however, committing only 30 unforced errors while hitting 44 winners.
The sunny weather and grinding rallies seemed to favor Canas, the stockier, more physical player. But he began to clutch his left hamstring between points and received a massage from a trainer in the third set.
"I'm old," Canas later said with a laugh. "All my body hurts."
While he declined to blame the hamstring injury as a factor in his loss, he appeared to favor the leg when he double-faulted in his final service game to fall behind 5-4.
Djokovic wavered serving for the match with his lone double-fault and a wild forehand, but smacked confident strokes on the final two points for winners -- and the championship.
"On the last point I said, 'I'm going for the forehand, I don't care. If I make a mistake, I'll break my racket.' And then I just fell down to the ground. I was very happy."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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