ATP World No. 3 Novak Djokovic was in devastating form as he capped a huge season by racing to his first Tennis Masters Cup title with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Nikolay Davydenko in Shanghai on Sunday.
The final victory earns Djokovic 50 points in the ATP 2008 Race and takes him to within just two points of second-placed Roger Federer at the season end.
"I would put it in the same league as a Grand Slam because the best eight players in the world are participating here," said Djokovic. "I feel very happy. End up the season the way I started it, with a win in a big event. So it's a great boost up for upcoming season."
The Belgrade native began Sunday afternoon’s final at the Qi Zhong Stadium in blistering form, breaking the Davydenko serve twice as he raced to a 5-0 lead. While Davydenko made a nervous start, hampered by poor serving, Djokovic played one of his finest sets of the tournament, dominating and dictating the points and hitting winners from every area of the court.
Davydenko barely had time to find his feet in the second set, just settling in at 1-1, when he was powerless to stop an inspired Djokovic from breaking through with a big forehand passing shot to lead with a break.
Watch highlights of the final on ATP Masters Series TV
Djokovic looked to be on the verge of one of the biggest tournament victories of his career when he held two match points with Davydenko serving at 3-5. But the Russian chose that moment to produce some of his best tennis, winning seven of the next eight points to first hold serve and then command a 0-30 advantage as Djokovic attempted to close out victory. Tremendous hitting into both corners by Davydenko left Djokovic facing two break points and he surrendered on the second with a double fault to hand Davydenko a lifeline.
However, Davydenko’s respite was short-lived as Djokovic played arguably his best game of the final to immediately recoup the break of serve and, at the second time of asking, made no mistake as he roared to victory with a powerful serve that Davydenko could not return.
"It was special because I've played in the second part of the season in a couple of finals, and I didn't manage to win the title for a long time, since Rome," said Djokovic. "That's probably the reason why I couldn't close it out in 5-4. I was a bit nervous. It's not easy, you know. There is a lot of pressure involved. I'm happy that I managed to hold my nerves in the end."
"For me I think was today a very difficult day," said Davydenko. "He played very good. We played both from baseline. I tried to control, but he played fast. He didn't play like one ball fast; he played like every point, very good concentration completely first set. Because he didn't make so many mistakes. Good serve, good return.
"Against Djokovic you need to be perfect, also play very fast and very good. That's what he did, and I didn't. Doesn't matter how he played one game; he still had good concentration for the next game. That's why I lost everything from the baseline. He played faster, and I really had no chance."
The 21-year-old Djokovic closed and opened his season with a title, having won his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January with victory over Federer in the semifinals and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. The Serb also punctuated his season with ATP Masters Series shields at Indian Wells (d. Fish) and Rome (d. Wawrinka) and now takes his career total to 11 (11-6 record).
The Monte-Carlo resident, who finished 2008 with a 64-17 match record, also made semifinal exits at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal) and the US Open (l. to Federer) and captured a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympic Games (d. Blake).
The 27-year-old Davydenko enjoyed his best performance at the Tennis Masters Cup this week, improving on the semifinal finish he achieved on his debut in 2005 (l. to Nalbandian).
The Volgograd resident, who upset the in-form Andy Murray in the semifinals, finished his fine season with a 56-21 record, marred only by his inability to reach the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam for the first time since 2004. He collected three ATP titles at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami (d. No. 2 Nadal), Poertschach (d. Monaco) and Warsaw (d. Robredo), helped Russia to the Davis Cup semifinals and represented his country in the circuit finale championship match for the first time.