World No. 1 and former champion Novak Djokovic cruised into the Swiss Indoors Basel quarter-finals on Thursday when he beat Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot 6-1, 6-2 to set up a meeting with Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
Djokovic, the 2009 titlist (d. Federer) and 2010 runner-up, won the first set in 26 minutes, dropping just four of 20 points on serve and converting two of four break point opportunities. The 24-year-old Serbian lost five points in winning the first four games of the second set, before Kubot hit four winners to break Djokovic’s streak of games. Minutes later, Djokovic improved to 4-0 lifetime against the World No. 64 with a hold to 15 to wrap up victory in 55 minutes.
He improved to a 66-3 match record on the season (42-2 on hard courts) and to 11-1 lifetime in Basel, an ATP World Tour 500 indoor tennis tournament. Djokovic has won 10 of his 28 tour-level titles this year.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic gave fans a fright Tuesday evening at the Swiss Indoors Basel, first donning a Halloween mask on his entrance to the court before surviving a scare against Belgian Xavier Malisse 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
“Every year for the last five years it’s a tradition at Halloween, which usually is during Paris-Bercy, that I go out with some crazy mask,” explained Djokovic. “This year it happened one week earlier, so I hope that people don’t mind. It was just tradition and a little bit of fun.
“I was communicating with my fans on Facebook and Twitter the last couple of days and they told me to go for it, so I went for it,” he added. “It was sitting on the chair next to me and it was watching me all through the match. It was scary.”
Djokovic won the first set with two breaks of serve, but came under pressure in the second. He double-faulted to relinquish a break in the ninth game and Malisse seized his opportunity to draw level.
The top-seeded Serbian quickly regrouped, rolling out to a 3-0 lead to start the third set. He held the match on his racquet at 5-4, but hit a double fault on the fifth break point of the game. Malisse was eventually undone by his own share of errors, committing four straight in a must-win service game to concede the victory to Djokovic after two hours and 12 minutes.
“I hoped that we would not get to the tie-break,” he admitted. “It’s really unpredictable in the third set tie-break who’s going to win. He made a couple of mistakes. I made some returns in. Overall, it wasn’t a great match for me. I played many, many better matches this year than this one, but under the circumstances, for me the most important thing now is that I feel good on the court physically.”
Djokovic, making his first tournament appearance since his US Open triumph, is chasing the 11th title of his outstanding 2011 campaign this week in Basel. He has reached the final the past two years at this ATP World Tour 500 indoor tournament, defeating Roger Federer in the 2009 final before finishing runner-up to the Basel-native last year.
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic continues to marvel. A week after ending Rafael Nadal’s 37-match unbeaten run on clay, the Serbian dethroned the Spaniard in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final with a 6-4, 6-4 win on Sunday evening in Rome.
Djokovic has now won 39 successive tour-level matches (37-0 in 2011), the sixth longest winning streak in the Open Era. He has not been beaten since the semi-finals (l. to Federer) of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November and has opened this season by winning seven successive titles, beginning with his second Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open (d. Murray).
After getting the better of Nadal in the finals on hard court at the BNP Paribas Open and the Sony Ericsson Open in March, many expected the Spaniard to right those wrongs come the clay-court season, during which he has been utterly dominant in recent years.
Novak Djokovic has had a season of dreams, winning all 32 matches (now, 34) and six tournaments he’s contested, and he comes to the Eternal City this week with the chance of attaining a long-held goal: the World No. 1 ranking.
“My ambition or goal is to be No. 1 and my dream is to win Wimbledon so these are two things that I always wanted to do,” said Djokovic on Tuesday ahead of his Internazionali BNL d’Italia campaign. “The No. 1 ranking is obviously getting closer to me but it still takes a lot of work to get there and if I do get there in a couple of weeks or months or a couple of years it does not matter. I will try to keep working to get to this position.”
Should Djokovic win the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Rome and two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal falls prior to the semi-finals, the Serbian will ascend to the top spot of the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings on Monday. If Nadal succeeds in holding onto his ranking this week, Djokovic will have another golden opportunity at Roland Garros, where defending champion Nadal has 2,000 points to defend and Djokovic 360 for a quarter-final showing.
Djokovic earned his opportunity to clinch the No. 1 ranking this week by defeating Nadal on Sunday in the Mutua Madrid Open final – his first clay-court win in 10 attempts against the Spaniard.
When asked whether that victory – heralded by Djokovic as his best match on clay – would have the same momentous effect as Nadal’s first grass-court win over Roger Federer and an eventual change at the top, the World No. 2 said, “Well, we are about to see about that… It is definitely a big step in my career to win against Nadal in his country on a clay court. I have never done this before and it is important from the mental aspect as well and the upcoming clay court events.”
Reflecting on the daunting task of facing Nadal on clay or Federer on grass, Djokovic stated, “Probably a year [ago], both of those challenges were like mission impossible, but I guess everybody started to believe in me, even myself, that I think you can win against those guys. So I think it is all about your mindset on the court and really trying to go out on the court with a positive attitude and really believe in your abilities and believe that you can win on the court, with respect to Federer and Nadal, the most two dominant players in the world in the last couple of years.”
So far this season, Djokovic has defeated both Nadal and Federer three times each. The 23 year old claimed his wins against Nadal in the finals of three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, after going 0-4 against the Spaniard in title matches prior to this year. Meanwhile, his wins against Federer came in the Dubai final and the semi-finals of the Australian Open and BNP Paribas Open.
2. Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, US Open SF
He would not go on to win the US Open, but Novak Djokovic certainly left his mark on Flushing Meadows after saving two match points to defeat Roger Federer in a pulsating five-set semi-final clash, thus denying the Swiss a place in his seventh straight US Open final.
Having lost to Federer in each of the three previous years at the US Open, including in the 2007 final, Djokovic explained afterwards, “I just knew I have to be patient and not lose my emotions too much, because that was the case in the past where I was losing the momentum with him. He uses that nervousness of the opponent. He feels it.”
Indeed, the Serbian showed nerves of steel when, at 4-5 15/40 in the fifth set, he saved two match points with a swinging forehand volley and a down-the-line forehand winner. He went on to win the final three games, trumping Federer in a 22-shot rally to close out the match after three hours and 44 minutes.
The result came one year on from Federer’s defeat in the 2009 US Open final, in which he had been two points from victory against Juan Martin del Potro. The five-time US Open champion ultimately paid the price for committing 66 unforced errors to Djokovic’s 38 and afterwards expressed the disappointment he shared with many tennis fans, that he would not have the chance to reignite his rivalry with Rafael Nadal in the final. “I would have loved to play against him here. I did my hard yards the last six years making it to the finals, and he was unfortunately never there. And now one point away from this happening, obviously it’s a bit of disappointment.”