Djokovic must dig in for test of endurance

Serb feels the pace as he prepares to face Soderling in 96th match of season today
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The Independent Online

The marathon is nearly over for Novak Djokovic. The 22-year-old Serb will play his 96th match of the year here in London today when he faces Robin Soderling in the second series of round-robin matches at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Should he make Sunday's final, the world No 3 would be playing in his 99th match of the year.

No other player on the main tour can come close to matching that record. Rafael Nadal is closest with 76 matches played so far, while Andy Murray was due to play his 76th last night against Roger Federer.

Djokovic has yet to hit the wall that most marathon men face at some stage of their careers, but it was looming during his latest epic, when he beat Nikolay Davydenko 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 on Monday night.

After the match, which lasted two and three-quarter hours and finished just before midnight, Djokovic admitted that the year was finally catching up with him. "I'm very exhausted because of the long season," he said. "Confidence is there. Game is there. Form is there. But physically you sometimes can't fight nature.

"I wasn't feeling that great on the court. Physically-wise, I was a bit slow and couldn't get in great rhythm. It was the same with my reactions. I'm just happy to win the first match. I knew that it was going to be long one. Davydenko is in great form and he's a very aggressive player.

"I really think he was the better player in the first two sets and maybe overall in the whole match. But when you have bad days, you still manage to win, to find a way to win. I think that's something that is great to have in your game."

The result gave Djokovic his 11th successive victory. He has lost only one of the 20 matches he has played since the US Open and has been the form player of the autumn, winning the Paris Masters and tournaments in Beijing and Basle.

Nevertheless, Djokovic does not see himself as the favourite against Soderling, who continued his impressive year by beating Nadal in the first meeting between the two men since the Swede sent the Spaniard to his first defeat in 32 matches at the French Open in May.

"He played really well," Djokovic said of Soderling's latest win. "I think Rafa is struggling a little bit with his form. Soderling was serving well and had nothing to lose. He deserved to win. We're going to have a tough one. There is no easy match here. After my long first match, I just hope I can recover physically.

"I wouldn't rate myself as a favourite in that match because he's in a great form. Small details – a couple of points – will decide the winner."

Djokovic was not the only player who felt the pace on Monday night. Davydenko, who has been enjoying a successful autumn after an injury-troubled start to the year, had breathing difficulties and had to call for the doctor in the second set. It has been a recurring problem for the Russian over the last three weeks during the indoor season.

"Some doctors say maybe asthma, some say maybe allergy, some say bronchitis," Davydenko said afterwards. "I really don't know. If you see all the matches that I lose in three sets, that feeling happened like this."

Davydenko meets Nadal in today's other match and is confident he will have recovered in time. "Physically I feel OK, so I'm not really tired," the world No 7 said. "I can run for three hours. Against Nadal I'll also have to run three hours. We'll see how I play, what I can do in the match."

Marathon man: Djokovic's 2009 so far

Played: 95 matches

Won 77, lost 18

Won 5 titles, runner-up 5 times

Prize money this season: $4,453,063


Brisbane: first round – 1 match

Sydney: semi-finals – 3

Australian Open: quarter-finals – 5


Marseilles: semi-finals – 4

Dubai: winner – 5


Benidorm (Davis Cup v Spain): 2 singles

Indian Wells Masters: quarter-finals – 4

Miami Masters: runner-up – 6


Monte Carlo Masters: runner-up – 5

Rome Masters: runner-up – 5


Belgrade: winner – 4

Madrid Masters: semi-finals – 4

French Open: 3rd round – 3


Halle: runner-up – 5

Wimbledon: quarter-finals – 5


Montreal Masters: quarter-finals – 3

Cincinnati Masters: runner-up – 5

US Open: semi-finals – 6


Beijing: winner – 5

Shanghai Masters: semi-finals – 4


Basle: winner – 5

Paris: winner – 5

London: – 1 so far