Djokovic dominates Shapovalov to win Paris Masters title

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic looked imperious in beating an overawed Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-4 Sunday to win his fifth Paris Masters final, clinching a 34th overall Masters title in fine style to move one behind record holder Rafael Nadal.

At 32 years old, Djokovic has already won 77 titles in a stellar career and fully intends to add many more.

“I don’t take them for granted like it’s something normal or usual or common. I’ve been blessed to win so many big titles in my life,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m still playing professional tennis, to fight for these big trophies and to still be able to play the highest level.”

Shapovalov was mostly outclassed, even though he was physically fresh having avoided a potentially grueling semifinal because the second-ranked Nadal pulled out beforehand with an abdominal strain.

Still, the odds were heavily stacked against the 20-year-old Canadian, who was appearing in his first Masters final.

“I put him under pressure for the second serve and from the back of the court I was solid, not giving him too many opportunities,” said Djokovic, who felt unwell with a sore throat earlier in the week. “I feel like the second part of the week was terrific, it was improving day by day in terms of my level.”

Djokovic never appeared troubled on his way to a fifth ATP title this year – level best with Dominic Thiem.

He served out the match with a love hold, hitting a forehand winner before turning to look at his box and raising his arms in triumph.

“It was my best serving performance of the tournament,” Djokovic said. “Denis maybe lost his focus a bit.”

Shapovalov entered the match with only one career title – a modest ATP 250-level tournament in Stockholm last month – and having lost his three previous encounters against a 16-time Grand Slam winner considered among the all-time greats of tennis.

The big-serving left hander looked tense, making three unforced errors in his first service game and slipping quickly to 3-0 down against a composed Djokovic playing in his 50th Masters final and 111th overall. After botching a return on Djokovic’s opening serve of the seventh game he whacked his racket into the ground in frustration.

Dropping only four points on his serve in the first set, Djokovic clinched it with another dominant serving game which included two aces and concluded with a volleyed winner at the net.

“It was tough for me to find a groove just because he was really picking his spots on the serve,” Shapovalov said. “He just places it well, it’s tough to read.”

As Shapovalov’s unforced errors resurfaced in the seventh game, Djokovic broke him again for a 4-3 lead.

Djokovic saved his first break point of the match at 30-40 in the next game when Shapovalov returned a sliced serve well wide.

With that, the briefest glimmer of hope was gone.

“I’m sure the best things are yet to come for you,” Djokovic said to Shapovalov during the trophy ceremony.

Kind words, yet the gap to Djokovic’s level remains huge.

“It’s great to hear that, but I still have a long way to go,” Shapovalov said. “I want to be beating guys like Novak so I have to improve, find a way to return better.”

Djokovic has won every final he’s played at Bercy Arena except for last year’s against Karen Khachanov, which came after a three-hour semifinal slugfest against 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.

This year, Djokovic did not drop a set and heads to the upcoming ATP Finals in London looking to secure the year-ending No. 1 ranking for a sixth time. That would move him two ahead of Nadal, one ahead of Federer and Jimmy Connors, and into a tie with record-holder Pete Sampras.

Nadal is also in strong contention to finish the year as No. 1 but it remains uncertain whether the Spaniard can play at the ATP Finals, which start Nov. 10.

“I’m sad to see that he’s injured because that’s not what you want to see. I know how that feels,” said Djokovic, who struggled nearly two years with an elbow injury. “Historically he’s had several injuries at the last part of the season, so I hope he can recover. Because without him, obviously the battle for No. 1, but also the tournament itself, is different.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”