New look tennis, same old Novak: Djokovic claims victory upon tennis’ return as he leads revolution against ATP bosses

Novak Djokovic fought back from a set down to beat Milos Raonic 1-6 6-3 6-4 in the Cincinnati Masters Final in New York. Alex Grant reports.

Novak Djokovic equalled Rafael Nadal’s record of 35 Masters 1000 titles on Saturday, having to battle back from a set down against Milos Raonic.

In the ever-changing world in which we currently live, Novak Djokovic offered a timely reminder to all tennis fans that throughout everything, some things remain the same.

Victory for the world number one moved him to a record-equalling 35th Masters 1000 crown (level with Rafael Nadal), meaning that the pair now hold a groundbreaking 70 Masters titles between them.

The Serbian didn’t have everything go exactly his way, however. Djokovic narrowly squeezed past Roberto Bautista-Agut in the semi-final, and was troubled in the beginning of the match as Milos Raonic, fresh from a comfortable victory over rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas, took the opening set 6-1 after just 31 minutes of play.

But, much like in his previous round, Djokovic dug deep and as he began to get a read on the big Canadian’s cannon of a first serve, forcing his opponent into more baseline rallies. Raonic’s forehand, which had opened up the court to perfection throughout the opening set, was suddenly missing its target. The Serbian duly took advantage, forcing the final into a decider.

Raonic, who came into the match with 0-10 head-to-head deficit against the Serb, bounced back at the beginning of the third, claiming an early break to lead 2-0 but lost serve immediately after and soon fell a break behind as Djokovic claimed four successive games to lead 4-2. The rest of the match followed serve, but the top seed never looked like surrendering his lead and soon served the match out to claim an 80th title of his extraordinary career.

Milos Raonic extended his dismal record against Djokovic to zero wins and 11 losses and will feel hard done by in his latest misfortune, having led the Serb in after the first set.

Victory sees Djokovic move to a perfect 23-0 win/loss record for the season, as well as becoming the first man in history to have won all nine Masters titles at least twice – two years after his first Cincinnati title saw him become the first man to achieve the career Golden Masters (winning all nine Masters at least once).

This was a tournament unlike any other for Djokovic, however, as the event was played entirely behind closed doors, with the players wearing face masks both before and after matches, with post match handshakes replaced with a respectful tap of the racket.

The Cincinnati Masters was also moved from its usual city, instead taking place on the grounds of the US Open as players remain in a COVID-19 secure bubble ahead of the second grand slam of the season, due to get underway at Flushing Meadows in New York City this week.

After the match, Djokovic expressed his desire to make the most his career, commenting:

“I am trying to make the most of my career, trying to use this time when I feel that I am physically, mentally, emotionally, game-wise at (my) peak and playing some of the best tennis that I have ever played.”

Djokovic then sent his best wishes to fans watching from home across the world, expressing his desire to see the crowds back as soon as possible, stating:

“I would like to take this opportunity to say hello to all the Cincinnati fans and tennis fans around the world. We miss you guys. It feels quite strange to be in these conditions and circumstances, but we all hope for a better tomorrow and you are one of the biggest reasons why we play professional tennis, so hopefully we can see you very, very soon.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the tour, however, with French player Benoit Paire testing positive for coronavirus despite being a part of the COVID secure bubble.

The tournament was then further overshadowed by Djokovic’s decision to resign as the President of the ATP Player Council, alongside fellow council members Vasek Pospisil and American number one John Isner, choosing instead to form their own separate players only association, the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA). This comes after growing tension between many players, Djokovic in particular, and ATP bosses.

This Djokovic-led revolution will, however, have to go ahead without the influence and support of world number two Rafael Nadal and world number four Roger Federer. Two all-time greats of the game both have criticised the decision, not to mention the timing.

Djokovic’s decision hasn’t been as warmly received by some as it has by others, with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both standing opposed to the Serbian’s decision.

Nadal tweeted his thoughts, curiously during Djokovic’s semi-final match, citing the current world situation commenting:

“These are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction. It is time for unity, not for separation.”

The Spaniard then finished his statement by stating:

“We have a bigger problem and separation and disunion is definitely not the solution.”

This was a sentiment shared by his long-time rival and friend with Federer retweeting Nadal’s post, commenting:

“I agree @RafaelNadal. These are uncertain and challenging times, but I believe it’s critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward.”

Former world number one Andy Murray is another player against the proposal, although opened the door to potentially being persuaded round if the women and WTA as a whole were to be included commenting:

“I’m not totally against a player union, but right now there’s a couple of things: one is I feel like the current management should be given some time to implement their vision. Also, the fact that the women aren’t part of the (new plans).”

Murray continued: “I feel like that would send a significantly much more powerful message, if the WTA were on board as well. That’s not currently the case. If those things changed in the future, it’s something that I would certainly consider.”

So, as tennis’ top stars teeter on the brink of a political civil war, attention will now turn, for Murray and Djokovic at least, to the US Open, where Djokovic will be looking to continue his perfect start to the season, whilst Murray will be looking for his first singles grand slam match win since the first round of the 2018 edition of the tournament.

Federer and Nadal will both be absent from this year’s tournament however, with Federer continuing his recovery from knee surgery earlier this year, whilst Nadal has decided to skip the defence of his 2019 US Open crown, choosing instead to prioritise the delayed French Open, due to begin just a week after the conclusion in New York. The Spaniard will be aiming for a record-extending 13th Roland Garros crown and a record-equalling 20th grand slam at the tournament.

The absence of his fellow members of tennis’ big three sees Djokovic enter the US Open as the overwhelming favourite but other stars such as Dominic Thiem, Sascha Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev will be hoping to stop the Serb in his tracks and claim a first major title of their respective careers for themselves.

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