Getty Images

Murray ends season as No. 1, beats Djokovic at ATP finals

Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Without a doubt, Andy Murray will be the No. 1 player in the world for the rest of the year.

The Wimbledon champion needed to win the final match of the season to ensure his place at the top. And he did it, rather easily.

Murray beat Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-4 Sunday to earn his first title at the ATP finals, and make sure he remained No. 1 until next season.

“I would like to try and stay there, obviously. It’s taken a huge effort the last five, six months to get there,” said Murray, who took over the top ranking two weeks ago and has now won 24 straight matches.

“I’m aware that’s going to be extremely difficult because I had a great year this year. I only managed to do it by one match.”

Murray replaced Djokovic as the top-ranked player in Paris, but the second-ranked Serb could have regained the No. 1 position by winning Sunday at the O2 Arena.

And Murray seemed vulnerable heading into the final, especially after playing three sets against Milos Raonic in Saturday’s semifinals. He started against Djokovic with a pair of double-faults in the opening game, but it was soon his opponent that was struggling with his serve as the unforced errors piled up.

“There was no serious chance for me to win today’s match,” Djokovic said. “From the very beginning we could see that. He was just a better player all in all.”

Normally so steady with his groundstrokes, Djokovic found himself missing easy shots time after time, finishing the match with a whopping 30 unforced errors and only 13 winners. Murray had 15 unforced errors and 13 winners.

In the first set, Djokovic had a routine smash that he whacked wide. And in the second, he netted a basic forehand volley.

It never got much better for the 12-time Grand Slam champion, who was trying to win a record-tying sixth title at the season-ending tournament and finish the year as the top-ranked player for the fifth time.

“I didn’t do much from my side. Every time I would get an opportunity, I would miss,” said Djokovic, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open this year.

Murray is the first man other than Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to finish the year as the No. 1-ranked player since Andy Roddick in 2003.

He took over the top spot on Nov. 7 after winning his eighth title of the season at the Paris Masters. He also reached the Australian Open and French Open finals, losing to Djokovic on both occasions, but won his second straight Olympic gold medal in singles at the Rio de Janeiro Games after claiming his second Wimbledon title.

On Sunday, he capped a long stretch of playing some of the best tennis of his life, and the best tennis in the world.

“I was solid enough when I needed to be,” Murray said, perhaps understating his accomplishment. “You never beat a player as good as Novak if you don’t play well.”

Sunday’s match was the first time since 2000 that the year-end No. 1 ranking was on the line in the final match of the season. Sixteen years ago, Gustavo Kuerten beat Andre Agassi to give the Brazilian the top ranking ahead of Marat Safin.

Despite winning the opening two Grand Slam tournaments this year, Djokovic has struggled in the second half of the season. He lost to Sam Querrey in the third round at Wimbledon, ending a 30-match winning streak at major championships. He later lost to Stan Wawrinka in the U.S. Open final.

“Well, the last five, six months have not been ideal,” Djokovic said. “But sometimes it’s just normal, I guess, to experience, to live these kind of things, not to have the half seasons as well as you want them to be, as well as they’ve been in the last three, four years. That’s all.”

Naomi Osaka on her way up with first pro tennis title

AP Photo
Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Naomi Osaka had just won the first title of her career and was waiting to be introduced for her post-match comments.

The 20-year-old from Japan had prepared, knowing what she was going to say and in what order.

But then her name was called.

“I freaked out,” she said. “I just started saying whatever came into my mind first, which is why I think I kept stopping halfway through my sentences, because I just remembered something else I had to say. That was pretty embarrassing.”

The crowd of 18,347 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday seemed to sense Osaka’s nervousness, something she worked hard to hide during a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the BNP Paribas Open final.

“I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous,” Osaka said. “But my plan was to, like, fake that I’m very calm.”

As hesitant as she was behind the mic, Osaka was polished and professional in dismantling Kasatkina, a fellow 20-year-old who also enjoyed a surprising run to the final.

Osaka dropped just one set in seven matches, knocking off two-time winner Maria Sharapova, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and top-ranked Simona Halep against whom she won the last nine games of the match.

She arrived at Indian Wells unseeded because of her No. 44 ranking. She left ranked No. 22 and with a $1.3 million check, nearly double her career earnings.

“I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much,” Osaka said.

She had made it past the quarterfinals at a WTA event just once before, losing in the final at Tokyo 18 months ago. Now, she’s 15-4 this year.

“I feel like I have made it my goal to be more focused every match this year, so I think it’s paid off,” she said.

Born in Osaka, Japan, to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, she moved to the U.S. as a 3-year-old. She holds dual citizenship, living for a time in New York and now in South Florida while representing Japan in Fed Cup.

“I play now for myself,” she said, “but when I was little, I just played because I wanted to make my mom happy, mainly my mom, and also my dad, for him to be proud.”

Her parents and sister Mari, a tennis player, too, weren’t on hand in California.

Osaka and Kasatkina shared a private jet – their first such ride – to South Florida, where they will play in the Miami Open this week. Osaka faces a first-round match against Serena Williams, her idol growing up.

“I feel like I just started winning,” Osaka said. “It’s a new feeling for me to be this consistent, so I’m just trying to be happy about that.”


Del Potro edges Federer in 3 sets to win Indian Wells title

AP Images
Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Juan Martin del Potro keeps surprising himself.

Close to quitting tennis after four wrist surgeries in recent years, the Argentine fought to get back to the ATP Tour even as he was reduced to hitting his backhand with one hand instead of his usual two.

The struggle paid off Sunday, when Del Potro staved off three match points in the third set to beat top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4,7-6 (8), 7-6 (2) for the BNP Paribas Open title.

The win ranks up there with Del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open title, in which he beat Federer, and helping Argentina win the Davis Cup in 2016.

“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis,” Del Potro said.

Naomi Osaka of Japan won the women’s title 6-3, 6-2 over Russian Daria Kasatkina in a match-up of 20-year-old rising stars.

Del Potro and Osaka each earned $1.3 million.

Del Potro became the first Argentine champion in the 42-year history of the desert tournament. He handed Federer his first loss of the year, snapping the Swiss superstar’s 17-match winning streak that was the best of his career.

“I feel frustrated that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer said.

Del Potro held a match point at 8-7 in the second-set tiebreaker, but he lost the final three points on his own errors that allowed Federer to force a third set.

“It was a lot of frustration after that match point, but then I play well,” Del Potro said.

They were on serve in the third until Federer broke for a 5-4 lead with a backhand winner off del Potro’s serve.

Federer had a chance to serve out the match, holding two match points. But del Potro staved both off to force deuce.

Federer’s forehand went long, giving del Potro a break point. Federer answered with a backhand that hit del Potro at the net and then gained his third match point on del Potro’s forehand error.

Del Potro recovered to deuce with a forehand winner. Federer mis-hit a forehand high into the air beyond the baseline, giving del Potro another break point. The Argentine cashed in with a well-placed forehand in the corner to tie the set, 5-all.

In the tiebreaker, Del Potro raced to a 6-1 lead, helped by two of Federer’s double faults. He closed out the win on his third match point when Federer’s forehand failed.

“I would like to play that tiebreaker again because I don’t know what the hell happened,” Federer said.

Del Potro lost just six points on his serve in the first set.

In the second-set tiebreaker, Del Potro and Federer took turns arguing with chair umpire Fergus Murphy. Del Potro was annoyed the crowd was making noise on his serve and told the umpire he wasn’t warning them enough to be quiet.

“It had no effect on the outcome of the match,” Federer said. “I was just also just trying to pump myself up more, to get energy for me.”

Del Potro survived three-setters against countryman Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals. It was his first win against Federer since last year’s U.S. Open quarters. Del Potro trails in their series 18-7, but owns a 4-2 advantage in finals.

Del Potro arrived at Indian Wells having won a title in Acapulco and back in the top 10.

“I’m really enjoying playing tennis again,” he said. “I’m still surprising myself, and I want to keep surprising the tennis tour.”

More AP tennis coverage: