For all that’s been on Novak Djokovic’s plate of late - including a painful neck and his efforts to start a new players’ association in men’s tennis - he just keeps winning.
Djokovic tied Rafael Nadal’s record by earning his 35th title at a Masters 1000 tournament, overcoming a sluggish start to beat Milos Raonic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Western and Southern Open final Saturday and improve to 23-0 this season.
"It has been challenging mentally and emotionally for me to stay sane and be able to compete on the highest level and win this title,” Djokovic said.
“Going on an unbeaten run so far this year obviously brings even more confidence each match,” he added.
Djokovic, 11-0 head-to-head against 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Raonic, goes into the US Open as the No. 1 seed and a big favorite. The Grand Slam tournament begins Monday.
"What is that, 23-0?” Raonic said playfully during the trophy ceremony. “Honestly, if I start the year off 3-0, I’m pretty happy.”
Earlier on Saturday, Victoria Azarenka won her first tour title since 2016 when Naomi Osaka pulled out of the women’s final because of a left hamstring injury.
Djokovic was listless in the first set, looking exactly the way one might have expected given that he labored through a three-hour semifinal a day earlier, when he repeatedly grabbed his stomach and twice had his neck massaged by a trainer.
It took all of 30 minutes for Raonic, ranked 30, to take that set. But Djokovic asserted himself in the second set, breaking to lead 3-2 with a backhand passing shot and raising his right fist.
In the third, Djokovic broke twice more, and eventually the 33-year-old from Serbia was raising his arms to mark his 80th career title and 61st on hard courts. Jimmy Connors holds the men’s record of 109 titles; the only others ahead of Djokovic are Federer, Ivan Lendl and Nadal.
Djokovic also won the Western & Southern Open in 2018 and is now the first man to win each Masters 1000 event - one level below the Grand Slams - at least twice.
He will be seeking his 18th Grand Slam title now, which would move him one behind Nadal and two behind Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20. However, neither of those rivals will be playing the US Open.
- Emotional week for Osaka -
Osaka initially felt a problem with her leg in her first match of the Western and Southern Open and said she pulled the hamstring in the second-set tiebreaker of her semifinal Friday.
She called this an “emotional week.” The 22-year-old Osaka brought the push for racial justice to the tennis tour by saying she was not going to play in her semifinal, joining athletes in other sports sitting out in reaction to the shooting by a Wisconsin police officer of a Black man, Jacob Blake.
Osaka’s stance prompted the tournament to say it was taking a “pause” to back the cause and scrapping all scheduled matches for Thursday. When play resumed Friday, Osaka competed, saying she was glad the matter got attention.
During his runner-up speech Saturday, Raonic said, “I’m a strong believer that we’re very lucky up in Canada that every single person walking on a street can feel safe and I hope that there is some serious change that goes on through the US, and that every Black man, woman, child can feel safe in their own communities, on the streets.”x
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