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Djokovic ready to chase Federer, Nadal

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NEW YORK (AP) Now that Novak Djokovic has the same number of Grand Slam titles as his childhood idol, Pete Sampras, it’s realistic for him to start thinking about chasing the only two men ahead of him, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

If Djokovic is reluctant to speak publicly about the idea of going from his current total of 14 to Nadal’s 17 or Federer’s 20, the Serb’s coach isn’t.

“The 14 is a number. I mean, it’s amazing: 14!” Marian Vajda said Sunday night with a giddy chuckle, his eyes wide, after Djokovic got there with a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the U.S. Open final.

“Years ago, I would say that Rafa and Roger went too far from him, you know? Too (far) ahead of him with the Grand Slams. Now I have a feeling he’s (catching) up with them,” Vajda continued, slapping the back of his right hand on his left palm for emphasis. “He’s so close now, three from Rafa and six – OK, six is still unbelievable – away (from) Roger.”

“Amazing” is a perfect word for this trio, which is rightfully back atop the rankings for the first time in 3+ years, with Nadal at No. 1, Federer at No. 2 and, as of Monday, Djokovic at No. 3.

They have combined to win 47 of the past 55 major championships, dating to the 2005 French Open.

That’s 85 percent. Quite a contrast to the current state of the women’s game, where eight players won the past eight majors.

Here’s another way to think about it all: When Sampras beat Andre Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final, in what would turn out to be Pistol Pete’s last professional match, it not only established a new record for men’s Slam trophies at 14, it also was two more than anyone else in history had managed to collect.

And now? Sampras has been equaled or surpassed by three players – and it’s only 16 years later.

Matching him was meaningful to Djokovic, whose earliest memories of tennis involve watching Sampras on TV at Wimbledon.

“There is a lot of significance of me being, now, shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of Grand Slam wins with him. It’s truly incredible when you think about it. I watched him win one of his first Wimbledon championships, and I grew up playing and thinking that one day I’ll be able to do what he does,” Djokovic said. “To actually be here, it’s a dream come true.”

Agassi, who finished with eight majors, and Sampras used to credit each with making the other better.

Same goes for the Big 3 of today (with all due respect to Andy Murray, he of the three majors plus two Olympic singles gold medals, it really isn’t a Big 4).

“Maybe 10 years ago, I would say I’m not so happy to be part of this era with Nadal and Federer. Actually, today I am. I really am. I feel like these guys, rivalries with these guys, matches with Federer and Nadal, have made me the player I am, have shaped me into the player I am today,” Djokovic said, his shiny silver U.S. Open trophy resting a few feet away.

“I have utmost respect for what they have achieved on the court, but also the champions, role models, they are off the court. I think we have pushed each other to the limit every time we get to play each other. For me, that was always an ultimate challenge: to play Nadal or Federer anywhere,” Djokovic continued. “I had to figure out early in my career, when I was losing most of the big matches (at) the Grand Slams against them, what it takes for me to actually kind of improve and develop my game to be able to challenge them, to be able to start winning against them when it matters the most. I think that was one of the most important, so to say, moments and periods of my life, my tennis career, my development. I owe it to them.”

The other beneficiaries: tennis fans.

And now the world gets to watch the next phase of this and wonder: How many more majors can Federer, 37 and coming off a fourth-round exit at the U.S. Open, add to his total? What about Nadal, 32, who retired from his semifinal at Flushing Meadows because of pain in his right knee, a problem off-and-on for years?

After Djokovic, 31, watched them increase their advantages over him while he went more than two years without a major, hampered by an injured right elbow that required surgery in February, he is now got his game in order. He showed off all of his court-covering, foe-frustrating, defense-to-offense skills down the stretch on the way to his third U.S. Open title, claiming the last 16 sets he played.

As Vajda put it: “Back at his best.”

Let the chase begin.

Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at hfendrich(at)ap.org or reach him via Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Zverev beats Djokovic to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Alexander Zverev upset Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Zverev became the youngest champion of the season-ending event since Djokovic claimed the first of his five titles a decade ago, and the first from Germany since 1995.

Top-ranked Djokovic was attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles but followed the same path as the Swiss great, who lost to Zverev in the semifinals at the O2 Arena.

Djokovic’s serve hadn’t been broken all tournament until the final. Zverev did it once in the first set and three times in the second, completing the victory with a spectacular backhand winner up the line.

Both players began the match in the same form that had seen them earn straight-sets semifinal victories a day earlier, with few points going against the server.

It was Djokovic, who had lost just two of his previous 37 matches, who began to feel the pressure as consecutive forehand errors gave Zverev a chance to serve out the opening set at 5-4.

Fans gave Zverev a huge ovation as he stepped up to serve, and it appeared to inspire him. Three straight aces brought up three set points, the second of which he took when Djokovic sent another forehand long.

Zverev even began to outlast Djokovic in longer rallies, an area of the game the 14-time Grand Slam champion usually dominates. A 26-shot duel brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set and, although Djokovic saved it, Zverev won another lengthy exchange moments later with a forehand winner to go 1-0 up.

With the biggest win of his career in sight, Zverev began to show some nerves. Although he is the only active player outside of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to possess three or more Masters titles, the young German has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Two double faults and two backhand errors gifted Djokovic an immediate break back, but Zverev quickly refocused to win a 28-shot rally on his way to breaking in the following game.

From there he remained solid on serve, before ending with a flourish. Having been pushed wide, a backhand winner on the run drifted past the helpless Djokovic.

Zverev sunk to the ground in tears as Djokovic sportingly crossed the net to embrace the player who will now be considered among the favorites to end the Serb’s run of two consecutive Grand Slam victories in Australia in two months’ time.

Earlier, American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.