Newspaper article International New York Times

The Third Man, Maybe, but Also the No.1

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Third Man, Maybe, but Also the No.1

Article excerpt

Novak Djokovic dispatched Tomas Berdych on Friday in his final round-robin match of the ATP tournament in London to reach the semifinals and also secure the year-end No.1 ranking.

Novak Djokovic is still the third man: the bendable champion who breaks serve so often yet still ranks behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in career achievement and global recognition.

But he is running an increasingly strong third, and on Friday, bathed in the deep-blue lighting of the O2 Arena, he gave himself another golden moment: dispatching Tomas Berdych, 6-2, 6-2, in his final round-robin match to secure the year-end No.1 ranking for the third time in the last four seasons.

That is quite a statement in an age that includes Federer, with his record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and Nadal with his 14 and his record nine French Opens.

"They've been so consistent with their results," Djokovic said. "I know how difficult it is, so that's why I'm proud of my achievement."

John McEnroe, who emerged as a great player in the wake of Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, can relate to the challenge.

"We come from a totally different time, but it reminded me a little bit of myself trying to break through to Connors and Borg," McEnroe said Friday. "That was my Nadal-Federer and to get that respect and sort of be in that mix was something I took a lot of pride in. And I think he's clearly done that."

Djokovic is also clearly in rare form and will face Kei Nishikori here on Saturday in the first of the semifinals, with Federer then playing an opponent who was to be determined later on Friday.

This has been a downbeat ATP World Tour Finals for now: full of routs (logical and illogical) and frustrated groans from fans in the stands who understandably want more entertainment for their not- insignificant investment.

Djokovic has not helped matters: dismantling three top-10 opponents in a row -- Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka and Berdych -- by the combined score of 36-9.

Since becoming a father last month with his wife, Jelena, he has yet to drop so much as a set, in the Paris Masters or in London. But at least the crowd in the O2 Arena on this drizzly Friday afternoon got to see a No.1 trophy ceremony before the tournament trophy ceremony that will come on Sunday.

The unlucky fans also got to see Djokovic looking truly exultant after match point: arching his back, pumping his fists and then embracing each man on his extensive support team, which includes Boris Becker, the former No.1 who became his head coach this year.

"There were moments up and down," Djokovic conceded. "Like any relationship between a coach and player, you can't have it all perfect from beginning to the end. It took us three to four months to really understand each other."

You can become No.1 at any stage of a tennis season, and Federer, now at No. …

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