Djokovic and Thiem triumphant as tennis’ Asian swing gets underway
Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem claimed ATP 500 gold respectively over the weekend as the Asian swing of the tennis calendar kicked into full gear. Alex Grant reports.
World number one Novak Djokovic was at his efficient best last week as he made expected light work of a weak field to claim victory at the Tokyo 500 for the first time. Djokovic showed no signs of the shoulder injury that hampered him throughout last month’s US Open as he bulldozed his way to a fourth title of the season and a 76th overall of a glittering career.
The 32-year-old was ruthless throughout the week as he won the title without dropping a set, the closest being the second set in his round of 16 match vs. home favourite Go Soeda, which the Serbian won 7-5.
The final was an equally straightforward affair as Djokovic dispatched with Australian world number 80 John Millman 6-3 6-2. It is the 10th time in his career that the world number one has come out victorious on his debut at an event.
Speaking afterwards the Serbian expressed his joy at how his first visit to the Japanese capital had turned out:
“It was a fantastic week in every sense. I felt great on the court, felt very welcomed by the Japanese people, off the court as well. They made me feel like at home,” Djokovic said. “Didn’t drop a set, played really well, served great. Just overall, a great experience.”
Elsewhere it was an equally successful week for world number five Dominic Thiem who battled through a much tougher field to claim the title at the Beijing 500 for a fourth title of his season.
Thiem did not have it all his own way throughout the week, however, having to fight back from a break down in the final set of his semi-final vs. the big hitting Russian Karen Khachanov to book a final showdown with next-gen superstar Stefanos Tsitsipas.
In the final Thiem had to once more show his fighting qualities with the Austrian finding himself a set and a break down against the talented young Greek but the Austrian showed the grit that helped him win a first ATP Masters 1000 title earlier this year to battle back and claim victory 3-6 6-4 6-1.
The Austrian’s title winning run in the Chinese capital also helped him book his spot at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals to be held once more at London’s O2 Arena. A tournament exclusively for the top eight performers of the year, Thiem becomes the fifth man to qualify for the event after Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and the Russian Daniil Medvedev.
Speaking of his qualification the Austrian commented:
“For me personally, it was one big goal when I started the season,” said Thiem. “I’m very, very happy that I made it again. But it’s not because of today’s win; it’s because of all the season. It’s a big honour for me to again be a part of (such a) big event in London. It also shows that I (have) played another very good and consistent season. I’m looking forward to it a lot.”
En route to his title in Beijing Dominic Thiem had to also fight his way past a resurgent looking Andy Murray. Whilst his quarter-final run in China might not be the type of result the two-time Wimbledon champion has grown accustomed to it was nevertheless another positive step forward for the Scot.
His run in China saw the Dunblane born superstar claim his first back-to-back singles wins on the ATP tour since his potentially career ending hip surgery back in January. The former world number one also claimed the biggest win of his comeback so far as he fought past world number 13 Matteo Berrettini in the first round.
The Italian was coming into the tournament off the back of his best ever showing at a grand slam having reached the semi-finals at last month’s US Open, where he lost to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. But he was sent packing early this time round, as Murray, ranked 503 in the world, edged him 7-6 7-6 in two tight tiebreaks sets.
The Scot followed this up with a hard fought 7-6 6-7 6-1 win over fellow Brit Cameron Norrie but could do nothing against the in-form Thiem falling in straight sets 6-2 7-6. The second set display against the world number five showed, however, that despite his now partially metal right hip that there may well be some life left in Murray’s legs after all.
Speaking after the defeat Murray was upbeat about his improvement commenting:
“This week is better than last week. I hope next week is better than this week. That’s how I have to try to keep going to see where my limit is. I don’t think I’m at that limit now. I think I can keep improving. That’s what this week has shown me.”
The tour will now converge for the penultimate ATP Masters 1000 event of the season in Shanghai with world number one Novak Djokovic looking to successfully defend the points he claimed in winning the title here 12 months ago.
The Serbian won’t necessarily have things all his own way this time, however, as he faces a potentially tricky opening match vs. Canadian next-gen star Denis Shapovalov. The top seed could also potentially face a quarter-final showdown with the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas before a possible semi-final meeting with US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev, who has beaten the Serb in each of their last two meetings.
This all comes before a potential final meeting with world number three and second seed Roger Federer although the great Swiss will have to navigate a tricky draw of his own facing a potential quarter-final meeting with Alexander Zverev before a possible semi-final match-up with Beijing champion Dominic Thiem.
Andy Murray will also look to continue his battle back after surgery, with the 14-time Masters champion, seeking his first wins at this level since 2017.
The tournament received a blow last week, however, when it was revealed that world number two and recently crowned US Open champion Rafael Nadal had withdrawn from the event with an inflammation of the left wrist.
Fans first became aware of the Spaniard’s latest issue at last month’s Laver Cup team event as he was forced to pull out of his scheduled final day matches with the injury. It is the second year in a row that injury has forced Nadal to miss the Asian swing of the tennis tour.
The withdrawal is a blow to Nadal’s hopes of pipping Djokovic to the year-end number one spot with the 33-year-old now in a race against time to get himself fit in time for the final ATP Masters 1000 event of the year, in Paris, at the end of the month before the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London. Both are events that still remain absent from the Spaniard’s legendary résumé.