ATP World No. 3 Novak Djokovic made a fine start to his 2008 Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai campaign on Sunday, defeating Argentine Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-3 in the first of Sunday’s Gold Group round robin matches.
The victory is Djokovic’s first at the Tennis Masters Cup after the Serb lost all three round robin matches on his debut in 2007.
The 21 year old was in command through most of the 1 hr., 57 min., clash with del Potro, the youngest player in the field at age 20. Djokovic broke in the fourth game to lead 3-1 and had the opportunity to serve out the first set at 5-3. Del Potro hit back to level at 5-5, but could not keep Djokovic at bay any longer as the Belgrade native broke once more in the 12th game to take a one set 7-5 lead.
Del Potro, a winner of four ATP titles this season, earned an early break of serve in the second set. But it was short-lived as Djokovic immediately leveled at 2-2 before going on to break serve for a fourth time to lead 5-3 and close out his second career victory over del Potro. He also won the pair’s first meeting in straight sets in the third round of the 2007 US Open.
Sunday's win saw Djokovic improve to a 61-16 match record on what has been a career-best season for the top Serbian player. The Monte-Carlo resident won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final.
The right-hander then followed with ATP Masters Series shields at Indian Wells (d. Fish) and Rome (d. Wawrinka) and finished runner-up at Queen’s Club (l. to Nadal), Masters Series Cincinnati (l. to Murray) and Bangkok (l. to Tsonga).
His run of success did not end there though as he also made semifinal exits at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal) and the US Open (l. to Federer), and won a bronze medal for his country at the Beijing Olympic Games (d. Blake).
Tennis Masters Cup debutant del Potro has experienced two hugely contrasting halves of the season. Until July, the Tandil native struggled with back problems and only recorded a 9-8 tally on the ATP circuit.
However, from then on he has won 36 of 42 matches, including a personal-best 23-match winning streak, and captured four ATP titles at Stuttgart (d. Gasquet), Kitzbuhel (d. Melzer), Los Angeles (d. Roddick) and Washington (d Troicki) from five finals (l. to Berdych in Tokyo). His surge in form has seen him rise from No. 65 in July to current No. 8 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings.