Novak Djokovic put himself within touching distance of the #1 ranking with a 7-5 6-1 victory over Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the second round of the Paris Masters. The Serb’s win means that Rafael Nadal must defeat his compatriot — Fernando Verdasco — tomorrow in order to stay on top of the world rankings.
Failure to do so will see Djokovic ranked at #1 when the new rankings update on Monday. It would be the first time that the 14-time Grand Slam champion will be at the pinnacle of the ATP rankings in exactly two years.
Going into the match, Djokovic held a convincing 5-0 record over Sousa – winning all fourteen of their previously contested sets. Few gave the gritty Portuguese baseline a chance.
The match started off exactly how many envisioned: lengthy exchanges from the back of the slow Bercy court. Unfortunately for Sousa, the world #2 does everything significantly better than him.
The Serb broke at the second attempt only for Sousa to grab the break back in the seventh game. That was the first time that Djokovic had been broken since the US Open final!
For the first time in his career, Sousa had taken more than four games in a set over Djokovic. That was the only thing he could celebrate as the world #2 elevated his level to clinch a tightly contested opening stanza.
Djokovic started the second set the way he finished the first: completely superior. The Serb ended Sousa’s season with a breadstick, getting the job done in under an hour and a half. Any rust that the 31-year-old had was completely worn off within a set.
Djokovic is well aware of how close he is to the summit of the world rankings, “I’m going to give my very best to try to achieve [the #1 ranking],” he said earlier this week.
“I’m really enjoying my tennis at the moment,” he added, “when you’re winning that many matches you have a lot of confidence.” That self-belief is what has got him just inches away from the #1 ranking.
Going into the grass court season, the Serb was a colossal 7,105 points behind Nadal and the thought of him getting back to the top seemed ludicrous. Although I did predict he would by the end of 2018.
Despite this, Djokovic somehow found his top level and since then, has won thirty-two of his next thirty-four matches. His only losses in that period occurred in the Queen’s Club final to Marin Cilic, and a shock defeat to rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas in Toronto.
Titles at Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open, and Shanghai have underlined that the 31-year-old is without doubt the best player in the world right now. It is just the computer rankings that do not show that.
Luckily for Djokovic, the power is in his hands. Nadal must match or better his rival’s results in Paris this week or he has no choice but to surrender his throne at the top of the ATP Rankings.
It is no foregone conclusion that Nadal will find a way past a very in-form Verdasco. The 17-time Grand Slam champion will be competing for the first time in nearly two months – after a knee injury forced him to retire from the US Open semifinals.
Verdasco has defeated Nadal on three separate occasions so the current #1 will be well aware of the danger his opponent possesses. If the 32-year-old is slightly off his game, Verdasco will smell blood and look to capitalise.
Tennis fans are in for a treat this week as we will be witnessing two legends of the game battle it out for the #1 ranking. Djokovic has placed the ball firmly on Nadal’s side of the court; let’s see how he responds.
Main Photo from Getty