Red-hot Djokovic eyes top spot

Novak Djokovic punching the air in delight after a clinical 6-3, 6-4 victory over Croatia's Borna Coric in the final of the Shanghai Masters yesterday. The Serb is only 215 points behind world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in his bid to claim the top ranking by
Novak Djokovic punching the air in delight after a clinical 6-3, 6-4 victory over Croatia's Borna Coric in the final of the Shanghai Masters yesterday. The Serb is only 215 points behind world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in his bid to claim the top ranking by the end of the year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Reinvented Serb rises to No. 2 after Shanghai win, fired up to overtake Nadal by year-end

SHANGHAI • His next target: Rafael's Nadal's world No. 1 ranking.

That was the warning shot fired by the "new" Novak Djokovic after the Serb, who displaces Swiss Roger Federer as world No. 2 today, lifted his fourth Shanghai Masters title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Croatia's Borna Coric.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion had been imperious all week and yesterday was no different as he barely offered a sniff to the 19th-ranked Coric, his good friend and occasional training partner.

The end when it inevitably arrived was anti-climactic, with Djokovic, who buried his head in his hands at the absurdity of the situation, winning the championship point after a video review.

Afterwards, Djokovic acknowledged that the race to finish as the year-end No. 1 was at the forefront of his mind as the ATP Tour season reaches its climax.

Spaniard Nadal, who was not in Shanghai or Beijing the week earlier because of a knee injury, is now just 215 points ahead of him.

A REBORN PLAYER

I had to reinvent myself and find, you know, a proper formula for success. I found it and I'm just trying to hold on to it as long as I can.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, world No. 2, on how he turned things around after being mired in a slump following elbow surgery in February.

"I could not ask for a better scenario," Djokovic, who last topped the rankings two years ago.

"I am very close now to Nadal in the rankings and (have) put myself in a good position for the last period of the year."

The red-hot 31-year-old has in recent months won Wimbledon, the Cincinnati Masters and the US Open, and he extended his winning streak to 18 ATP matches in a row in Shanghai.

It is a far cry from just five months ago when Djokovic fell to 22nd in the world after struggling to find his best form following an elbow surgery in February.

He missed the second half of last year with elbow and off-court issues, but said he had since adapted his game following the operation.

Djokovic, whose serve has been particularly dominant of late and did not drop a single service game in Shanghai, told reporters: "You're seeing the new Novak. I don't need to describe him, that's all I can say.

"I had to reinvent myself and find, you know, a proper formula for success. I found it and I'm just trying to hold on to it as long as I can.

"This was definitely one of the best service weeks that I've had in my career. Obviously, the last three, four months have been terrific for me. Not many holes in the game in general, especially this week. Everything worked perfectly."

When asked if he had a message for Nadal, Djokovic said with a smile on his face: "I will leave that to your creative spirit of journalism."

While Nadal, 32, could return from his latest injury for the Paris Masters, which starts on Oct 29, Djokovic intends to turn the heat up after revealing his intention to play in either Vienna or Basel in an effort to further narrow the gap on the Spaniard.

Both tournaments start a week before the season finale.

And his vanquished opponent in the Shanghai final admitted that with the form Djokovic is in, it might only be a matter of time before he returns to the top after his defeat by "one of the best in the history of tennis".

"He was the much better player on the court. I was playing good, really, I was really happy with how I played," the 13th-seeded Coric, who had heavy strapping on his thigh and had been troubled by a stiff neck ahead of the biggest match of his career, said.

"I felt even if I was serving a little bit better, he'd still return my serves, so there is nothing I can do."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2018, with the headline 'Red-hot Djokovic eyes top spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe