At the Net: Djokovic is the man to beat next week

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The final scheduled ATP tournament of
2014 (excluding the Davis Cup final) will go down next week when the top-8
players in the world converge on London for the $6 million ATP World Tour
Finals at The O2 in London.

Of course Novak Djokovic is the heavy favorite … and for good reason.

Not only has the super Serb won the last two Tour Finals, he’ll head to London
having captured his last 27 matches on indoor surfaces over the last two
years.

Last week, Djokovic was an indoor champion at the Paris Masters, nailing down
his 20th career Masters title and 600th career match win in the process in his
first event as a new father.

Djokovic became the 23rd overall player to join the 600 wins club and
the third player to reach the milestone this year, joining Lleyton Hewitt and
David Ferrer.

At just 27 years of age, six years younger than Hewitt and five years behind
Ferrer, achieving that milestone is a testament to Djokovic’s consistent
run of dominance since he crashed onto the scene in the late 2000s.

“He’s remarkably consistent on every surface and I think he’s taken movement
and flexibility to a whole new level,” said former world No. 4 Brad Gilbert.
“He has the best backhand in this era and the best since Andre (Agassi).”

In London, there’s still a battle going on for the coveted year-end No. 1
ranking between Djokovic and the five-time year-end No. 1 Federer, but the
Belgrade native has a significant 1,310-point lead in that race, which leads
one to believe that Djokovic will prevail for the third time in four years.

A potential 1,500 points are up for grabs next week.

“It definitely encourages me the fact that I have played so well [in Paris]
and that I have won the past four indoor tournaments in the past two years
that I’ve played,” said Djokovic, who hasn’t lost indoors since Sam Querrey
stunned him in his opening match two years ago at the Paris Masters.

“From outdoor hardcourt that was my most successful and most preferred
surface, now I guess it’s an indoor court. I do feel very comfortable playing,
returning, serving in these conditions.”

Djokovic beat Federer in the 2012 Tour Finals final and Rafael Nadal in last
year’s championship match at The O2. The Serb also came out on top in 2008,
when the prestigious season-ending tourney was staged in Shanghai.

“Two successive titles in London in the past two years give me reason to
believe that I can do well,” said Djokovic. “I have a week off to recharge my
batteries, recover a little bit, spend some time with family, and get on the
court.

“I’m excited to be there, because I think it’s one of the most spectacular
tennis venues that we have. People in London love tennis and have appreciation
for this sport. So I look forward to that.”

The Wimbledon champion and French Open runner-up Djokovic will spearhead
“Group A” in London and will open up Monday night against surprise U.S. Open
champ and Tour Finals newcomer Marin Cilic, whom he’s never lost to in 10
career meetings.

Also in Djokovic’s group next week will be Australian Open champion Stan
Wawrinka, whom the Serb leads 15-3, and Tomas Berdych, whom Djokovic leads
16-2. Djokovic is a combined 41-5 lifetime against the players in his group.

Needles to say, it’s looking good for Djokovic to advance beyond the round-
robin stage next week.

“It helps that I’m playing well, and that I’m feeling good about myself on the
court playing indoors,” Djokovic said. “Every match that I play, every match
that I play and win, gets me closer to holding No. 1 the end of the year.”

“Group B” will feature the six-time Tour Finals champion and two-time
runner-up Federer, hot Andy Murray, and event newcomers Kei Nishikori and
Milos Raonic. Nishikori was September’s U.S. Open runner-up to Cilic. Raonic
was last week’s Paris Masters runner-up to Djokovic.

The seven-time major kingpin Djokovic and 17-time Grand Slam king/in-form
Federer are the only former Finals champs in next week’s field. Djokovic
outlasted Federer in this year’s outstanding five-set Wimbledon finale.

The French Open king, Aussie Open runner-up, former world No. 1 great and two-
time Tour Finals runner-up Nadal will skip London as he recovers from surgery
this week to remove his appendix.