By Sigurd Neubauer
Novak Djokovic is playing for history. As the 2023 tennis season draws to a close, the Serb, 36, secured yet another tournament victory by defeating Grigor Dimitrov, 32, 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters.
The tournament plays a unique role as the last master’s level of the season. It is also known for its high-prize money, which, of course, explains why it draws top talent.
“Djokovic is so much better and smarter than anyone else,” explains President of the Junior Champions Center (JTCC) Vesa Ponkka. Ponkka points out that the Serb took some time off following his victory at the US Open and participation at the Davis Cup. “He paced himself and used his experience against his competitors as they were clearly tired and played below their levels,” the JTCC President says. “The younger players were especially tapped out, especially the Americans,” he adds. Ben Shelton, 21, however, stands out as an exception to the younger generation of Americans as he’s had an incredible season. Last month, he won his first ATP title at the 2023 Japan Open.
Commenting on the Djokovic- Dimitrov final in Paris, Ponkka argues that the Bulgarian is playing the best tennis of his career. “I have never seen him so lean; his body shape resembles that of Djokovic. Because the Bulgarian is in better shape compared to what he has been in over the last 15 years, he’s making great decisions on court.”
This was evident with his back-to-back victories over Daniil Medvedev, 27, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 25. “While he was clearly motivated, his opponents are mentally, physically, and emotionally drained, which Dimitrov was able to take advantage of.”
Responding to the significance of the Paris Masters, Ponkka points out that while it is a prestigious tournament sought out by all top players, they’re also looking forward to going on vacation afterwards. “They’re just all tapped out,” the veteran coach says.
Djokovic has won an all-time record 24 Grand Slam men's singles titles, including a record ten Australian Open titles. Overall, he has won 97 singles titles, including a record 70 Big Titles 24 majors, a record 40 Masters, and a joint-record six ATP Finals
The players cannot wait to begin the 2024 season, but first they’ll take some time off in December: Ponkka