Djokovic Claims 89th Career Title in Tel Aviv
Novak Djokovic got back to winning ways this week, winning 4 matches out of 4 without dropping a set to be crowned champion at the Tel Aviv Open in Israel. It certainly wasn’t vintage Djokovic, but it was enough, as he defeated an out-of-sorts Marin Cilic 6-3 6-4 in a one-sided affair on Sunday. In the end, it came down to Djokovic being the more solid of the two in the big moments, converting 2 of his 6 break point chances, while Cilic spurned his only break point opportunity. In important moments, Cilic often made unforced errors, with Djokovic finding moments of quality when it mattered, as great champions do. Making 22 unforced errors, as Cilic did, simply won’t do the trick against someone of Djokovic’s quality, who at times, looked as though he would never fail to find the court.
Importantly for Djokovic, this title adds 250 ranking points to his somewhat depleted total, not helped by the fact that his run at Wimbledon was not rewarded with any points, when normally he would have received 2000. Although many would argue that ranking is irrelevant for someone who has achieved as much as Novak Djokovic, the points earned this week will increase Djokovic’s likelihood of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals in November, where only the Top 8 ranked players qualify. Djokovic is currently languishing at 15th in the Race to Turin, but only needs to finish in the Top 20 to qualify, having won a Grand Slam this year. This particular rule was implemented to ensure Grand Slam champions were rewarded for their efforts, even if injury (or indeed other circumstances) affected their ability to pick up points.
The Race to qualify for Turin is heating up significantly, with many still in contention of qualifying. Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas have already qualified, so in theory, only 4 spots remain. However, it looks increasingly unlikely that Nadal and Zverev (who is 8th in the race) will be able to compete, so there is still all to play for. Cameron Norrie currently sits at 11th in the Race and had entered a string of consecutive tournaments in a bid to qualify. However, Norrie faced an unfortunate setback this week, having to withdraw from his quarter-final match in Seoul, and subsequently his first-round match in Tokyo after a positive Covid test. Injury dealt a big blow to Jannik Sinner’s chances this year, as the Italian retired after a heavy fall against Holger Rune this week in Sofia.
Nick Kyrgios, currently at 18th in the race, is still in contention to qualify, especially if has a good week in Tokyo, where 500 points are up for grabs, in a tournament where he has had success in the past. Kyrgios could make history by becoming the first player to appear in both the singles and the doubles at the new format of the ATP Finals, with Kyrgios and his partner Thanasi Kokkinakis looking in a strong position to qualify in the doubles. The likes of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurkacz will all need to pick up some good results over the next month to ensure their attendance in Turin.
Meanwhile, the race to the tour end championships on the WTA tour, held in Fort Worth in the USA, is looking even more unpredictable, with only Swiatek and Jabeur having already qualified. With Swiatek hoarding most of the available points from this year, the lower threshold for qualifying is surprisingly low, and those as far down as 30 in the Race still have a realistic chance of making the cut if they pick up plenty of points. Defending champion Garbine Muguruza, who is down at 47 in the race, must pick up points elsewhere, or will see her ranking drop significantly, as the Spaniard looks increasingly unlikely to qualify. The likes of Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula and Caroline Garcia look the most likely to secure their spots next, but as is always the case on the WTA Tour, anything could happen.
There is also one important accolade still up for grabs this year: the position of Year-End World Number One. On the WTA Tour, this has been already decided, with Iga Swiatek holding more than double the number of points compared to her next closest rival, Ons Jabeur, but on the men’s side, Carlos Alcaraz will face stiff competition from the likes of Casper Ruud and Daniil Medvedev, but still holds a commanding lead of 930 points. To stand a chance, Ruud or Medvedev will need to win the Paris Masters and have a good run in at least one other tournament, while hoping that Alcaraz fails to pick up many points over the coming weeks.