Can first-time Masters 1000 Series finalist Denis Shapovalov do anything to stop Novak Djokovic claiming his fifth Rolex Paris Masters title on Sunday?
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Novak Djokovic sets his sights on a fifth Paris Masters title – and on boosting his chances of ending the year as world no. 1 – as he takes on Denis Shapovalov in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters on Sunday.
Djokovic was always going to surrender the world no. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal on Monday, having held it for exactly a year, and currently trails him by 1,040 points. The ATP Finals awards a maximum of 1,500 points to an undefeated champion. Victory for Djokovic will narrow the gap between him and Nadal in the rankings to 640 points ahead of the ATP Finals, keeping Djokovic very much in the hunt to finish the year as world no. 1.
Nadal could have put the year-end world no. 1 ranking out of Djokovic’s reach by winning the title in Paris, something he has never done, but the Spaniard pulled out of Saturday’s scheduled semifinal clash with Shapovalov due to an abdominal injury sustained in practice, giving Shapovalov a walkthrough to a first Masters 1000 Series final, putting London in doubt and giving Djokovic the advantage in their duel to end the year on top.
Whether or not the battle for the top spot is whetting Djokovic’s appetite at this late stage of the season, it cannot be disputed that the Serb is on extremely sharp form this week and it was on display again in Saturday’s 7-6(5), 6-4 victory over Grigor Dimitrov. Having defeated Corentin Moutet and Kyle Edmund in straight sets, and absolutely crushed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-2, Djokovic was always going to be favourite against Dimitrov, who he had defeated in eight of their nine previous encounters, but the Bulgarian put up a really good fight especially in the first set and Djokovic needed to be very good to get the win in straight sets.
Indeed, if anything it felt that Dimitrov had the edge in the first set and was putting more pressure on Djokovic’s service games than vice versa. Neither man could get much of a foothold, but Dimitrov did have a 15-30 lead at 3-3 before an errant forehand saw Djokovic pull level and go on to hold for 4-3.
A set in which neither man could manufacture a break point fittingly led to a tie-break and it was Djokovic who took the first point against serve to lead 2-1 when he outlasted Dimitrov in a cagey rally, but the Bulgarian struck right back with a forehand down the line pacey enough to get a high ball he could clean up with an overhead for 2-2. A fateful double fault from Djokovic, his third of the set, saw him trail 3-5 as Dimitrov found himself in a superb position to take the set – only to lose the last four points. Djokovic levelled to 5-5, reaping the reward of brilliant defense when Dimitrov missed a drive volley, earning set point as Dimitrov missed a forehand, and closing out the set by winning a 35-shot rally.
After that, the second set felt like a bit of a formality and so it proved as Djokovic broke in the fifth game and never surrendered that advantage to close out the win in tight, clinical straight sets.
This will be Djokovic’s sixth time in the Paris Masters final and the second year in a row he’s faced first-time Masters 1000 Series finalists for the title. Last year he was denied by Karen Khachanov – what are the chances that Shapovalov will manage to pull off a similar stunning victory?
Up until a couple of weeks ago, Shapovalov had never made an ATP Tour final at any level, losing the first seven ATP Tour semifinals he played including three this season at the Miami Masters, Winston-Salem Open and Chengdu Open – failing to get even a set in any of the seven. But the Canadian snapped that streak in style when he beat Yuichi Sugita in Stockholm, going on to claim his maiden title, and every win he’s scored in Paris has been a good one: He benefited from a retirement from Gilles Simon in the first round, but triumphed in three-set battles with Fabio Fognini and Alexander Zverev before crushing Gael Monfils 6-2, 6-2.
Shapovalov had beaten Nadal before so there was some anticipation for their semifinal clash on Saturday before the wind was taken out of everybody’s sails by Nadal’s withdrawal. At this stage of the season, however, the physical boost of not having to play a match is fairly crucial – especially since Shapovalov has already pulled out of the Next Gen ATP Finals, citing a need to rest his body – and certainly seems to outweigh the negatives of any loss of rhythm, although it is far from ideal preparation for a clash with someone like Djokovic (not that there is anybody like Djokovic).
We’ve seen some players triumph in their first Masters 1000 Series final appearance over the last few seasons – Khachanov in Paris last year, Fognini at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in April, Alexander Zverev and Jack Sock in Rome and Paris respectively in 2017. Could Shapovalov join them?
It looks unlikely. The world no. 28 doesn’t just have a massive experience disadvantage when it comes to facing Djokovic, he’s also 0-3 vs the Serb. All three matches took place this year, and while Shapovalov took a set from Djokovic in Melbourne, he was unable to do so in Rome or Shanghai, winning an average of two games in the past five sets he’s played against the Serb. I could be wrong, but I don’t see Shapovalov succeeding in changing the dynamic this time. He’s having a great end to the season, but I don’t think he has the physical or mental stamina right now to build point after point with the kind of relentless yet disciplined aggression it would take just to go toe-to-toe with Djokovic. The world no. 1 (for one more day) looks set to capture the 34th Masters 1000 Series title of his career.
Djokovic vs Shapovalov Rolex Paris Masters tennis is live from Bercy on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm GMT
Djokovic vs Shapovalov tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Djokovic closing in on fifth Rolex Paris Masters title
Can first-time Masters 1000 Series finalist Denis Shapovalov do anything to stop Novak Djokovic claiming his fifth Rolex Paris Masters…
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