LONDON • Considering where Novak Djokovic began this year, he was able to quickly put his defeat by fast-rising German Alexander Zverev in the title-decider of the ATP Finals into perspective.
The 31-year-old Serb was the odds-on favourite to crown a magnificent six-month streak by claiming a record-equalling sixth Finals crown, but his 21-year-old opponent stopped him in his tracks, winning 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday.
Djokovic will still end the year as world No. 1 for the fifth time, a most unlikely achievement considering he had elbow surgery in February, suffered a woeful run of form on his return and slumped to 22nd in the rankings in June.
Going into the final, the 14-time Major winner had won 35 of his previous 37 matches and, despite an off-night, he still looks capable of dominating the field next year.
"If someone told me (I would end the year as No. 1) at that time, it was looking quite improbable," he told reporters afterwards. "Not just ranking-wise, I wasn't playing even close to where I wanted to be at in terms of (the) level of tennis.
"No one likes to lose, and I've just come off court, but you see things a bit differently. All the positive things that I have to reflect on and also take from this season, especially the last six months."
While Djokovic was uncharacteristically ragged against Zverev, he took nothing away from the world No. 5 despite not being at 100 per cent. "That took a lot out of me. I'm happy he won the big title because we have a really good and friendly relationship," he added.
And Zverev reflected on his "astonishing" feat after becoming the youngest player since the Serb in 2008 to lift the title and only the fourth player to beat Roger Federer in a semi-final and Djokovic in a final in the same tournament.
"I'm incredibly happy and proud right now," he said. "I will do everything I can to get better."