Novak Djokovic congratulates Karen Khachanov (right) after the final of the Paris Masters tennis tournament on November 4 (Pic: Twitter, Khachanov).
Russia's Karen Khachanov ended Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten streak, a run of 22 matches this season, after beating the Serb in the Paris Masters Final on November 4. Djokovic would still be a happy man despite the loss as he took over as the World No. 1 when ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) released their updated rankings on November 6, replacing the injured Rafael Nadal at the top.
The 5-7, 4-6 defeat was Djokovic’s first since he went down to Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Rogers Cup round of 16 in Toronto early August. It was only his 11th loss in a season that saw him regain top form and reach the pinnacle of men’s tennis once again.
Djokovic, began the season outside the top 20 in the world ranking, won two Grand Slams this year -- the Wimbledon and the US Open ― en route the World No.1 spot. The demons hounding him the past two seasons ― a recurring elbow injury and indifferent form ― have slayed for now.
The turning point, many have noticed, came in April when he sacked Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek and roped in former coach Marian Vajda to be part of his team. Djokovic and Vajda go a long way back, from the Serbian’s early years in the sport. He was removed as coach in 2017 which was termed as "shock therapy" by Djokovic, when he dismantled his long-standing support cast to initiate change.
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The old team is back now with long-time fitness trainer Gebhard Phil-Gritsch also featuring in the Djokovic corner. Things took a couple of months to fall in place though, but the Serb was back in world-beating at the onset of the grass court season winning Wimbledon after beating Nadal in the semi finals in an epic five setter 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 10-8.
The World No. 1, however, couldn’t find ways to stop the 22-year-old Khachanov in the final in Paris. The Russian earned his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title, while stopping Djokovic’s rampaging run in an hour and 37 minutes delaying, for the time being, the Serb from equalling Nadal record of 33 Masters titles.
Although he was broken early as Djokovic took a 3-1 lead in the first set, Khachanov managed to break back and get back in the match almost immediately. A break in the 11th game was all Khachanov needed to take the lead for good as he held his next serve to seal the opening set.
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Khachanov's momentum continued in the second set, and the Russian took a 3-1 lead and never looked back. With the win, he ends the year ranked 11th in the world, his career best finish to a season.
Djokovic, meanwhile, would be keen to not let this loss affect his momentum as he heads to the ATP Tour Finals in London, ready to take on the top eight players in the world for the year-ending bragging rights.
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