November 14, 2014
You had to smile. Romantic Novak Djokovic completed the perfect year by securing his third world number one title in style. Yet his most memorable message in his moment of triumph had nothing to do with tennis.
His 6-2, 6-2 victory over Tomas Berdych was a predictable formality, yet it meant so much for the final rankings in a memorable year. Roger Federer had already admitted that Djokovic had effectively “shut him out” in the race for top spot. How right Federer was, though the anticipated final between the two men in London should still be breathtaking, given the sparkling form they have already displayed.
However, Friday was more about looking back than looking forward, an opportunity to place the entire year in context. And that meant celebrating one man alone. With thirty consecutive indoor victories, eighteen wins against top ten players and only nine games lost in three London matches this week, Djokovic has claimed 2014 in style. Just as he was top dog in 2011 and 2012, so he has dominated this year too.
For Novak, though, 2014 has been a year was like no other. You could line up some of the sport’s legends in front of him, as they did this afternoon in the O2 Arena, and he could still be forgiven for looking straight past them. John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, Carlos Moya…they all have their place in history. Djokovic respects each and every one of them. But he didn’t take much prompting to think beyond them, to savour something far more personal. When asked for another highlight besides winning Wimbledon and becoming a father, Novak didn’t hesitate.
‘The wedding!’ he exclaimed immediately, reaching 0ut to his wife Jelena via the cameras. ‘I love you darling, I didn’t forget the wedding!’
Just what a woman wants to hear when she is a new mother and her relationship with her man is changing due to the arrival of their child, in this case son Stefan. It was admirable stuff and had 20,000 fans expressing their appreciation for the sentiment.
Novak couldn’t focus on Jelena alone, though. He added: ‘I became a father and that’s the most beautiful thing in the world. And then to stand here with the trophy too, what a year it has been personally and professionally. Definitely one of the best. I hoped I could continue playing like the first two matches here. If I won this match i knew i would stay world number one. It’s been a long year, it’s an incredible achievement. I want to thank my team, my family and all the people who supported me. Being world number one is the most difficult and biggest challenge a player can face and it’s an incredible feeling. This is the sport I love the most, I’ve been playing it since I was four years old.
‘I’m going to enjoy this win and then start to think about the semi-final against Kei Nishikori. He has one of the best baseline games and he is playing some of the best tennis of his life. But I’m going to be able to relax that little bit more when I play him now.
‘It’s been a long year and this has been one of the ultimate challenges, it’s incredible knowing how many legends of the sport have finished as world number one, and four of them are here with me, standing right here by the court.’
Even at that moment, you suspect Djokovic would have swapped them all for one fresh glimpse of his wife and son. But he insisted this wasn’t the time for any kind celebration, not when he is reaching the business end of the World Tour Finals.
Djokovic wants to maintain momentum for the semi-final and then, in all probability, the finale that everyone is dying to see. It won’t decide who is world number one, because Novak has killed that contest quite ruthlessly. He has simply been too consistent to leave the masterful Federer with any more than a temporary sniff of top spot this year. But the two stars of 2014, the men who have lit up the O2 just as they thrilled Wimbledon, have unfinished business. They have played so well that it is hard to see which one will crack and fall at the final hurdle.
Federer will play his fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the other semi-final, though London was delighted to see a match on Friday that went to three sets, the first mini-marathon of this year’s event.
Stan Wawrinka took the first set 6-3 against US Open winner Marin Cilic, who promptly hit back 6-4. Playing for pride and already destined for an early exit, the Croatian nevertheless summoned enough strength to take a two-game lead in the deciding set, before he was pegged back again by the Australian Open champion.
Wawrinka eventually triumphed 6-3 thanks to a Cilic double fault and won’t have much time to rest up before the big fight against Federer.
Stan said later: ‘It was a tough match and I’m really happy to get through, it’s really important for me. I was trying to be aggressive and now I play Roger. We will try not to have any problems because we have the Davis Cup final in a week! I’ll hope for some support and I’m looking forward to it.’
Poor Stan can carry on hoping. Federer is the darling of the O2 Arena.
But the day belonged to the extraordinary Djokovic – and his own darling, Jelena.