After one of the best seasons in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic fell to his most lopsided loss of 2011 at the year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London.
The Serb lost 6-3, 6-1 to David Ferrer last night in his second group match at the O2 arena. It was his fifth defeat in 75 matches this year, and came two days after he saved a match point and needed three sets to defeat Tomas Berdych.
“It was the worst match I’ve played this season so far definitely,” said Djokovic, who made 33 unforced errors, three times as many as Ferrer. “Credit to the opponent, he played a great match. But I just wasn’t there.”
Djokovic, 24, who began 2011 with a 41-match winning streak that was the longest since John McEnroe in 1984, has won 10 titles this year including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. In July, he knocked Rafael Nadal out of the No. 1 ranking.
Djokovic, who’s won more games on his opponents’ service than any other player on tour this year, struggled against the fifth-ranked Ferrer’s serve. He won only 8 percent of the points when Ferrer’s first ball went in, while the Spaniard had a 34 percent success rate on Djokovic’s first serve. Djokovic also produced three times as many double faults as Ferrer.
“Maybe he was a little bit tired, a little bit long season,” Ferrer, who has qualified for the semifinals after two wins, told reporters. “But I play really good.”
It was the third time in his career that Ferrer defeated the No. 1-ranked player. He beat Andre Agassi in Rome in 2003 and Nadal in January’s Australian Open quarterfinals.
Since winning his first U.S. Open title in September, Djokovic has struggled physically. Although he has downplayed his ailments in news conferences, he didn’t hit a single serve in practice the day before playing Ferrer.
Six days after lifting the U.S. Open trophy in New York, he quit during a Davis Cup semifinal match against Argentina because of pain in his back and ribs. Following a six-week break during which he pulled out of tournaments in Shanghai and Beijing, he lost to 25th-ranked Kei Nishikori of Japan in the Basel semifinals. He withdrew before the quarterfinals at the Paris Masters two weeks ago because of a shoulder injury.
Playing Davis Cup so soon after the U.S. Open “maybe was the wrong decision,” Djokovic said.
“I play with the heart sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes maybe it’s better to think with the head.”
The ATP Finals feature a round-robin format, with the top eight players in the ATP rankings divided into two groups and the top two in each section moving into the knockout semifinals.
Defending champion Roger Federer of Switzerland, who has already qualified for the semifinals, plays Mardy Fish of the U.S. today. Nadal meets France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the evening session with the winner moving to the final four.
Djokovic, who is now 1-1 in group matches, next faces Davis Cup teammate Janko Tipsarevic, who entered the tournament as a replacement when Andy Murray pulled out with a groin injury. Djokovic still has a chance to make the semifinals, depending on what happens in the other group match between Ferrer and Berdych of the Czech Republic.
Berdych saved a match point yesterday in defeating Tipsarevic 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).
No matter what happens this week, Djokovic said he’ll leave London knowing his year has been “incredible.”
“Nothing can ruin the season,” he said.