SHANGHAI – Novak Djokovic defended his Shanghai Rolex Masters title with a stirring 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Juan Martin del Potro on Sunday night.
The top seed in the tournament, Djokovic overcame the sixth-seeded del Potro with some timely shot-making and sheer determination in a battle that went 2 hours and 32 minutes.
Djokovic, who lost the No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal this week, completed a sweep in the country with the win, having also triumphed at last week’s China Open in Beijing.
Del Potro, ranked seventh, put on a courageous show, displaying his vast talent, but it was not enough to get past the slightly more polished Djokovic.
“He’s a fantastic player and a great person,” said Djokovic. “He’s a big fighter. All the way up to the last point, I didn’t know if I was going to win this match.”
The Argentine appeared emotionally deflated at the outset after his stunning win over Nadal in Saturday’s semifinals.
Djokovic, who claimed his fifth title of the season, broke Del Potro in the second game of the opening set, then held serve to quickly establish a 3-0 lead.
Del Potro had two break points in the third game, but could not convert them.
The Serb was relentless, pounding forehands from far behind the baseline for winners that del Potro had no chance at reaching.
Del Potro was only spared the humiliation of being blanked in the first set by saving two set points in the sixth game, when he finally held.
Djokovic ended the set in just 34 minutes on serve in the next game.
“I didn’t serve really well (in the first set),” said del Potro. “Nole was playing too fast in the beginning. I made some mistakes with my forehand.”
Just when it appeared Djokovic was going to run away with the match, del Potro held serve to start the second set, then broke to go up 2-0.
When del Potro stretched the advantage to 3-0 on serve, the crowd started to come to life.
Djokovic finally held in the fourth game, but del Potro was in form by this point and his confidence was growing.
Del Potro’s comeback was fueled by a fierce forehand and some excellent passing shots. He also exhibited a strong first serve.
“His forehand is one of the best in the game, one of the best I have ever played against,” noted Djokovic. “It’s a huge weapon, and once it’s on, it’s very dangerous.”
The seventh game proved crucial for del Potro, as he saved three break points and then held for 5-2.
Del Potro took the set at love in the ninth game with an ace to even the match.
“I allowed him to come back into the match,” Djokovic said. “I felt I was in control of the match. I was playing an incredible first set. Suddenly I just started making these unforced errors that got him back into the match.”
The third set was on serve until the 10th game, when Djokovic gained two match points and appeared poised to end matters, but del Potro dug deep and held for 5-5.
The critical point in the tiebreaker came with Djokovic up 3-2, when he prevailed in a 24-shot rally with a booming crosscourt forehand punctuated by a shout.
Djokovic closed it out with a beautiful backhand up the line.
“The match was really close and I think Nole played unbelievable points in the tiebreak,” said del Potro. “He came to the net and made good points. The match was so exciting.”
Del Potro made it clear that despite the toll the victory over Nadal took, he gave it his all.
“I think when you do everything to win and you keep trying every single moment of the match, you find a way to play aggressive, to make winners with forehands, backhands, but the opponent plays better, you can’t say much,” he commented.
Djokovic now holds a 10-3 record against del Potro alltime.
The win earned Djokovic $729,000 and took his career winnings to more than $54 million.