If you're someone who only checks in on tennis during the Grand Slam season, you may be wondering how Novak Djokovic has handled the remainder of 2014 since his U.S. Open loss. Well, it turns out he's still quite dominant.
Djokovic asserted his dominance over the tennis world Sunday, picking up a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Tomas Berdych to earn a fifth China Open championship. The world No. 1 needed only 66 minutes, excelling on his first serve while Berdych noticeably struggled with his form.
Erik Gudris of USA Today pointed out Djokovic's strong history:
Djokovic, who was playing in his first competitive tournament since his semifinals loss to Kei Nishikori in Flushing, is now 24-0 in his career at this event. He did not lose a set the entire tournament and was in total control of Berdych throughout the match, setting the tone even when the Czech star was on serve.
Playing with a noticeable crispness, Djokovic won 64 percent of his return points as Berdych failed to locate his serves. Berdych double-faulted three times, missed on 43 percent of his first serves and generally looked out of sorts before a decidedly pro-Djokovic crowd. It was a stark contrast to the confidence with which he played heading into Sunday, as the third-seeded Berdych did not drop a set in his run up to the finals.
"Novak is playing in incredible form again. He has a great record playing here at the China Open," Berdych said coming into the match, per the ATP. "There is a new challenge, a new day, a new opportunity for me. I'm going to try to go there, try to take my chance and, again, try to play my tennis. Let's see what I can do with that."
What Berdych could do with that was ultimately not much. Djokovic played with a steely confidence from the outset, breaking his opponent's confidence with a brilliant opening set. He hit two aces and won nearly three quarters of his service points overall, then broke Berdych time and again with relative ease. Berdych hit less than half of his first serves in play and then dropped nine of his 12 second-serve points in the easy 6-0 romp.
While he was more accurate in the second set, the result was no different. In many ways, it was actually worse. Despite 60 percent of his first serves going in play, Djokovic was somehow more dominant, peppering the lines with well-placed backhands and a blistering forehand. Starting out the set 5-0, Djokovic was again winning better than three quarters of his return points and was seemingly on his way to closing Berdych out with consecutive goose eggs.
But, in the lone moral victory of what was otherwise a pure blowout, Berdych managed to save face. He fought against match point to earn a break point and then held serve for the first time before giving it back to Djokovic to close out.
Winning the match was just about the only thing Djokovic did not do well Sunday. He needed four different match points, including three on his final service game. But after Berdych battled back from 40-15 to force deuce, Djokovic closed out with two straight points to alleviate any concerns of a historic comeback.
"I'm glad that I'm back in the form that I would like to be in, especially in these courts where I still haven't lost ever since I played this tournament," Djokovic said before the match, per the ATP.
Djokovic in the end captured a higher percentage of his return points than service points during the second set. Second serves again proved a major frustration for Berdych, who took one of six in the second set and four of 18 overall. He has dropped 16 of 18 matches against Djokovic overall and has never beaten him on a hard surface.
For Djokovic, the win was entirely expected but nonetheless promising as the tennis season slowly begins progressing toward Australian Open primers. While still months away, Djokovic undoubtedly already has his mind on atoning for this year's disappointment in Melbourne. After taking three straight Aussie Opens Djokovic bowed out in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.
In preparation for that event, Djokovic will continue with the ATP World Tour overseas. He'll stay in China for the Shanghai Masters this week, a field that features nearly every top-ranked player worldwide. Then he will head to Paris and London for the conclusion of the year-capping event.
While the China Open did not feature the loaded fields he'll see in upcoming events, Sunday's match proved Djokovic is nothing if not still at the top of his game.
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