Novak Djokovic in a strop as he bids to chase down Andy Murray
The emotions and the tensions that swirl around inside Novak Djokovic often appear to be on the brink of rising to the surface and they broke out twice at the O2 Arena in London as the Serb fought back to beat Dominic Thiem 6-7, 6-0, 6-2 in the opening match of his defence of his title at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
For much of the last five months Djokovic has seen some of his most treasured tennis possessions slip from his grasp, from his Wimbledon and US Open titles to the world No 1 ranking, and his frustrations were evident at the end of a first set in which he had made too many unforced errors and had not struck the ball with his usual consistency.
Djokovic’s emotions boiled over when he smashed a ball in anger in the general direction of his entourage.
His actions earned a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct and could have had a much more serious consequence if the ball had hit anybody, but at least they seemed to focus his mind on the task in hand.
The former world No 1 was then in a tetchy mood when asked about the incident at his post-match press conference, saying it was “unbelievable” that reporters were “always picking these kind of things”.
When it was pointed out to him that he had been fortunate at the French Open earlier this year not to hit a line judge after throwing his racket in anger, Djokovic asked if he was the only player who ever showed his frustration on court. He insisted: “It’s not an issue for me. It’s not the first time I did it.”
Did he not think the consequence could have been serious if the ball had hit someone? “It could have been, yes,” Djokovic replied. “It could have snowed in the O2 Arena as well, but it didn’t.”
He added: “I had made a great comeback, saving six or seven set points, and then when I didn’t manage to win that first set, of course you’re frustrated. On the other hand, I think I managed to compose myself and really gather all my attention and concentration to what was coming up after that. The great start of the second set helped me to regroup.”
Djokovic, who is aiming to win the season-ending title for the fifth year in a row, was immediately more focused from the start of the second set as Thiem faded fast on his maiden appearance in this tournament.
Djokovic has more to play for this week. If he wins every match to claim the title for a sixth time, which would equal Roger Federer’s record, Djokovic would take the world No 1 ranking back from Murray, who plays his opening match this evening against Marin Cilic.
Jonas Bjorkman could not be happier to see Andy Murray (left) on top of the tennis world but that will not stop him plotting the Scot’s downfall today.
Twelve months ago the genial Swede was in Murray’s camp for the ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena.
But that proved to be his last tournament as assistant coach, with their partnership ending in December, and this summer he linked up with former US Open champion Cilic. And, in a quirk of fate, Murray’s first match as world number one will find him pitted against Cilic and Bjorkman.
There could certainly have been easier opening matches for Murray. Cilic is probably in the hottest form of anyone apart from the Scot and won their most recent contest in Cincinnati in August, which represented an auspicious start to his partnership with Bjorkman.
The former world number four admits it will be a strange occasion, saying: “Absolutely. I was sitting at home watching when they played in Cincinnati, so that was okay. Watching at home is not the same.
“Here now, it’s going to be different, but it will be fun. I have a great relationship with the whole team. I’m so happy for Andy, what he has achieved this year.
“He really put himself in a good position for this year and has continued to play extremely well. I think no one else deserves it more than him.
“I saw the work he puts in every day and I’m really impressed the way he’s been playing the last couple of months.
“It’s obviously going to be a tough match for Marin to play him now when he’s in this form but it’s the group stage and you can be a little bit more relaxed. Hopefully Marin can go in and take advantage of the victory from Cincy.”