The season ended as it began for Novak Djokovic. There have been times in the last six months when the 21-year-old Serb has given a poor imitation of the man who took the Australian Open by storm in January, but in winning the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup here today [Sunday] he looked every inch the young tyro who broke the hold Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had held on the sport in the previous two years.
Djokovic’s 6-1, 7-5 victory over Nikolay Davydenko was emphatic. Davydenko, who had beaten Andy Murray in straight sets 24 hours earlier, never looked in contention after losing the first five games. There was a minor wobble for Djokovic at the end of the second set as he was broken when serving for the title at 5-4, but Davydenko was unable to sustain his challenge.
At the end Djokovic ran across the court to celebrate with his back-up team. Not only has this been the most lucrative week of his career – he will bank $1.74m (nearly £1.2m), comprising $1.24m in prize money and a $500,000 bonus for appearing here as the season-ending world No 3 – but it has also underlined his big-match temperament. Davydenko had looked in top form in his semi-final victory over Murray, but the Russian was roundly beaten thanks to the excellence of Djokovic’s all-round game
“It means a lot,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I would put it in the same league as a Grand Slam, because the best eight players in the world are participating here and everybody has a lot of motivation to finish the season in the best possible way.
“For me it was special because although I've played in a couple of finals in the second part of the season I hadn’t managed to win a title for a long time, since Rome [in May]. That's probably the reason why I couldn't close it out at 5-4. I was a bit nervous. It wasn’t easy and there was a lot of pressure involved. I'm happy that I managed to hold my nerves in the end.”
Davydenko paid credit to his opponent and added: "Against Djokovic you need to be perfect and also play very fast and very well. That's what he did, and I didn't. Normally I play very fast and have very good control but today I didn't.”
If there is one major doubt about Djokovic it is his ability to sustain a level of excellence over the length of a demanding campaign. In his breakthrough season last year he was largely a spent force once he had lost to Federer in the final of the US Open. He went on to reach the Masters Cup but lost all three of his group matches here. After a flying start to this year he has been less convincing ever since losing to Marat Safin at Wimbledon, but this win will have reinforced the belief that he can succeed at the very highest level.
“Things are different when you're playing in the Masters Cup for the first time,” Djokovic said. “When you play for the second time you’ve gained more experience. And having won a Grand Slam and a couple of major events also gives me a lot of confidence on the court. I'm stronger player. I know how to play the right shots at the right times.”
When he looks back on this tournament Djokovic’s only regret might be his failure to win his last round-robin match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Djokovic had already qualified for the semi-finals as group winner, but if he had beaten the Frenchman he would have finished the year as world No 2 ahead of Federer, who clung on to his position by a mere 10 points.
“Certainly I believe that I have the quality to reach the top spot in the upcoming year, in the next couple of years, the next 10, or whatever,” Djokovic said. “That is my lifetime goal, but I’ve learned a lesson. If I pay too much attention to the rankings, things don’t go the right way. So I just want to improve my game. I know there is still room for improvement, and I just want to get my game to the highest possible level. Then the results will come.”
Djokovic’s win rounded off another great season for Serbian tennis. Jelena Jankovic finished the year as women’s world No 1, while both Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic have won Grand Slam titles. Nenad Zimonjic also ended the season as world No 1 in the doubles rankings after partnering Daniel Nestor to victory yesterday over the Bryan brothers in the final here.