Novak Djokovic — rusty, aggravated, injured — is far and away the best player in the world.
The world No. 1 showed poor footwork, a strange lack of balance, shrouded injury, and a lot of rust in his first tournament since Wimbledon. In the absence of world No. 2 Andy Murray and injured former No. 1s Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he still ambled across the finish line, in the final defeating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 7-5 for the Rogers Cup title in Toronto on Sunday.
The challenger Nishikori’s record in Masters level finals? 0-3. Djokovic’s record? A record 30 titles.
Djokovic was not at his best, nor did he need be. ESPN reported a shoulder injury, which did not explain his suspect footwork throughout the tournament. Regardless, his relentless fitness wore down Gael Monfils in long rallies in the semifinals, and Nishikori never showed the belief to beat the world No. 1 in the final.
“My two best performances came in the semi-finals and the final,” said Djokovic. “It came at the right moment for me.
“It’s a process like any other that has happened many times in my career, where I would start a tournament still feeling a little bit uncomfortable on the court and searching for my rhythm, and then, as the tournament goes on, I find that proper comfort level with shots, with the way I feel, with my mental attitude.”
Nishikori fell to 11-8 in career finals and 1-3 this year, claiming the Memphis title.
“He raised his level a lot from a couple of days ago,” Nishikori said. “I was hitting some good first serves, but he was making returns deep. He was hitting great returns and I was missing easy ones.”
Nishikori has lost his last four Masters matches to Djokovic.
“I think I need more experience in these kind of matches, but this is a great week even though I lost to Novak,” Nishikori said. “It was the second time this year in the final of a Masters 1000. I think I’m getting closer and closer. I hope I can get a title as soon as possible.”
Djokovic attributed the performance to simple rust.
“As the tournament goes on, I find that proper comfort level with shots, with the way I feel, with mental attitude,” Djokovic said. “And the two best performances have arrived in semifinals and finals at the right moment for me.”
Djokovic extended his lead to 10-2 over Nishikori, earning his ninth straight victory in the rivalry. His 66th tour-level crown moves him closer to overtaking Rafael Nadal (69) for fifth on the Open Era titles list. He also improves to 18-1 on the year against Top 10 players and it’s now 18 straight wins for the Big 4 in Masters events.
Next Djokovic advances to the Rio Olympics with roughly the same parameters — mystery injury(s), mystery balance/footwork issues — but this time with world No. 2 Andy Murray (and maybe Nadal) thrown in the mix.
Off day, injured day — it seems gold is Djokovic’s for the taking in Rio.
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