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Novak No. 1: Djokovic Motivated To Stay At The Top

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It was March 11, 2018. Novak Djokovic was facing Taro Daniel on Court 1 at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. On paper, a 30-time ATP World Tour Masters 1000 champion was facing a qualifier with just one match win at the level. But, peel back the layers and it was far from straightforward.
It was the Serbian’s first match in his return from elbow surgery and the former World No. 1’s career was in a state of flux and uncertainty. He would go on to lose five of eight matches as his position in the ATP Rankings fell to No. 22. But where many would acquiesce to defeat and succumb to the pressure, Djokovic is wired differently. It wasn’t long before he began his ascent to the top once again, creating a seismic shift across the ATP landscape.
After a one-year hiatus, as Djokovic makes his return to London for the Nitto ATP Finals, he enters on the heels of a history-making ascent to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. He is the first player to be ranked outside the Top 20 and climb to the year-end top spot in the same season. Where many might have been surprised by his rapid return to form, the Serbian admits that deep down he knew it was possible from the start. 

“Next to the Grand Slams and the ATP Finals, being No. 1 is probably the ultimate challenge in our sport,” Djokovic told the assembled media on Friday in London. “It’s the pinnacle of the entire season. I’m very proud of that achievement and it’s extra special this year because of the whole process and the journey that I’ve been through in the past 15 months. In particularly, the past 8-10 months. 
“After February’s elbow surgery, it looked quite improbable that I’d be in this position as a year-end No. 1. Not just because of the rankings, being No. 22, but also because of how I felt on the court and how I played. But there was always a part of me that believed I could make it back and I never thought it was impossible. 
“I thought it would take more time than I wanted it to be. But it was a perfect last five months of the year with two Grand Slam titles. Unfortunately, Nadal had to withdraw from all of his tournaments after the US Open, so he was not in that race for No. 1. But at the same time, I thought it was a great five months that I crowned with this achievement.”

Everything changed when Djokovic entered Wimbledon, subsequently posting a 31-2 record including Grand Slam titles at the grass-court major and the US Open, as well as ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns in Cincinnati and Shanghai. With his victory at the Western & Southern Open, he notched the Career Golden Masters, becoming the first player to complete the set of all nine Masters 1000 titles. 
Djokovic once again displayed the elite form that has seen him reign atop the ATP Rankings for 224 weeks. It was always there, but it just took some time for the Serbian to rediscover his rhythm and confidence.
As the Belgrade native enters The O2 with a record-tying sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown within reach, he reflected on his tumultuous, yet highly rewarding, journey. Djokovic has drawn parallels to his return and that of close friend and longtime rival Andy Murray. The Scot has laboured in his comeback bid from hip surgery and is looking to find his top form in 2019.
“One of the biggest things is knowing who to trust in this process. At the same time, you feel like you know there’s a certain way or procedure of recovery that is not the appropriate one. Then you change the direction and you lose a lot of time and get emotionally disturbed because you’ve wasted time and are not playing on the tour and 31 years old. 
“All of these things were going through my mind and I can certainly understand what Andy’s going through. For me, that was the most difficult thing for me to deal with. Just understanding which protocol and experts to follow. After that, to create a long-term plan and stick with it. I was fortunate to recover pretty quickly from my surgery in February. 
“I was on the court a month and a half later, but I was far from ready to compete. Probably everyone was against the decision for me to play Indian Wells, but I went there regardless. I don’t regret anything, but I learned from that experience. If it does happen again, I hope I’ll be a bit wiser approaching it.”
Having previously finished at year-end No. 1 in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, Djokovic joins Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer for the second-most top finishes, behind only Pete Sampras (6).
The World No. 1 enters The O2 in London as the top seed and looking to do damage yet again. He faces a stern test, however, with Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and John Isner in Group Guga Kuerten. But, with coach Marian Vajda in his corner, Djokovic is ready for any challenge. No test is too big.

On Friday, Vajda was recognised for his contributions to his longtime pupil’s return to No. 1, earning Coach of the Year honours in the 2018 ATP World Tour Awards Presented By Moët & Chandon. 
“First of all, I have to say that Marian is more than a coach to me. He’s a friend, he’s family, he’s someone I can always rely on. Even when we hadn’t worked for 12 months, we were closely communicating, talking about life, family and tennis. We have that relationship that has an unbreakable bond. Hopefully it stays like that for the rest of my life. 
“To have him back as a coach was a treat for me. At that time I was splitting with Radek and Andre and deciding which direction I wanted to go. At this stage of my career, I needed to go back to the basics and have people around me that know me and can contribute to my game and my life and can get the best out of me. Having Marian on board definitely contributed a lot to the success.”
Djokovic will conclude the opening round of group play, capping Monday’s night session with an 11th FedEx ATP Head2Head clash against Isner. He leads the series 8-2.
Source: ATP World Tour

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