A week after he won the Tel Aviv title, Novak Djokovic has claimed another, this time the Astana Open title in Kazakhstan to improve his tally to 90 and reduce the gap between himself and the all-time ‘titles won’ record held by the now retired Roger Federer, to 13 as well as edging closer to Rafa Nadal’s 92.
I always hoped that I would be going to have a great career. Obviously, didn’t know the amount of finals I was going to play, the amount of tournaments I was going to win, but my intention was always to reach the highest heights in our sport. Novak Djokovic
He also becomes only the fifth player to hit the 90mark in the Open era after Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
In what was the Serbian’s 128th final he claimed his 16th Tour win on the trot by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 6-4 in 75-minutes for his fourth title of the season and assure himself of a place in the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin
“I dared to dream, actually,” Djokovic replied when asked if he had ever imagined he would win 90 titles.
“I always hoped that I would be going to have a great career. Obviously, didn’t know the amount of finals I was going to play, the amount of tournaments I was going to win, but my intention was always to reach the highest heights in our sport.”
In what has been a self-inflicted truncated season, Djokovic has still managed to maintain his relentless pursuit of equalling or improving records set by his two big rivals.
The 35-year-old Serb was deported from Australia over his refusal to be vaccinated and consequently lost his chance to defend his Australian Open title. That stance forced him to be absent from the entire North-American hard court swing including the US Open before returning for Roger Federer’s farewell ‘party’ at the Laver Cup team event at the O2 in London last month.
In the interim he did manage to win his 7th Wimbledon title to match Pete Sampras’s record, which was his 21st Grand Slam singles title, one behind record holder Nadal.
There can be no doubt that his enforced period of absence has increased his motivation, a fact he very much acknowledges.
“Well, it did,” the new Astana Open champion said. “I could not ask for a better re-start of the season. I’m super-pumped and motivated to end the season as well as I have done these past couple of weeks.”
In contrast for the third-seeded Tsitsipas, who had been bidding for a tenth career title, it was the Greek’s ninth defeat in as many ATP Tour 500-level finals he has contested.
“I’m just very grateful and blessed to be able to play this well at this stage of my life,” Djokovic added.
“You know, 35 is not 25. But I think the experience, probably, in these kinds of matches and big occasions helps as well to approach mentally in the right way.”
Djokovic now leads Tsitsipas 8-2 in their meetings and has won on the last seven occasions.
This time Djokovic got off to a flying start and never looked to be in trouble, unlike his semi-final performance which saw him two points away from defeat before Daniil Medvedev retired with the match poised at a set-all.
The former world No.1, seeded fourth for the week, converted in the eighth game, the only break opportunity he had to go 5-3 up and then claim the opening set after 32-minutes, in the next.
With Tsitsipas now very much on the back-foot, the Greek fended off break points at 1-1 in the second set, finally holding serve with a forehand winner to avoid an early setback.
Djokovic though, pushed him hard on the returns at 2-2 and grabbed a crucial break in the fifth to start his run for the finish line and while Tsistipas battled hard over the next few games, he was unable to make any form of comeback.
The Serb eventually converted his third match point when he dropped a backhand winner into an open court for his victory.