ABU DHABI // Fans of harbingers and history, take note.
Prepare to smile, or cringe, depending on which players you support.
For those who believe in portents, the world No 1 Novak Djokovic served fast notice yesterday that his ranking, his two-year run of success at the majors and conferred status as the best in the business is not about to end as 2013 approaches.
Unofficial event or not, in his first swipe at the new season, at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship yesterday, Djokovic blew a service-ace missile past the game but overmatched Spaniard David Ferrer and never looked back.
It must be somewhat scary for his competitors to look ahead after the Serb dismantled Ferrer 6-0, 6-3 on a windy afternoon to advance to today’s final against Nicolas Almagro. It took exactly 70 minutes.
Said Ferrer softly: “Novak, he was better than me, no?”
He has been better than everyone for nearly two years now, going back to 2011, when he ripped off a 41-match winning streak to open the season.
Those who arrived late, and maybe a few who blinked a bit too often, missed an artiste at the top of his craft. If Djokovic looks this crisp after a lengthy lay-off, he will be a handful at the Australian Open, 16 days hence, and the favourite to win the tournament for the third successive year, unprecedented in the open era.
A scant 17 minutes into their semi-final match at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex, Djokovic held a 5-0 lead over Ferrer, the world No 5 and the second-highest-ranked player left in the field. Djokovic, who has played in seven of the past nine grand slam finals, executed every shot imaginable, from power to finesse, before fans had settled in for the night.
“I had to play my greatest,” said Ferrer, who last lost a set 6-0 when Rafael Nadal thrashed him in the semi-finals in Rome last May. “He has all the shots.”
When the scrappy Ferrer finally won a game in the second set, he raised both hands over his head, looked skyward and barked something toward the heavens.
Despite the rout, the typically animated Serbian had his verbal moments, too. When he requested an electronic ruling and it was upheld, meaning he lost a point, he jokingly shouted: “Why are you doing this to me?”
Ferrer could have asked the same of Djokovic, who broke the Spaniard’s serve five times.
After a near-perfect start, it was mostly a matter of how long Ferrer – coming off a career-best year with seven championships – could hold out against vastly superior firepower.
“It felt great,” Djokovic said. “After a few weeks of preparation and hard work it was a good performance against one of the best players in the world. It was a great confidence boost for me.”
After back-to-back years being named the ATP’s top player, it is fair to ask how much more self-affirmation he requires.
“Yeah, I played great,” he said.”I wish all the tournaments were played on surfaces like this.”
Djokovic, a hard-court stalwart, is playing only one other event ahead of the Australian Open, the Hopman Cup, a mixed-team affair in Perth next week. Which means someone else will be able to win at Doha next week or at Sydney or Auckland the week after.
As Djokovic stood at centre court for a post-match interview, a smiling fan in the stands flashed a hand-lettered sign reading, “Djokovic, do you have a plan to go back to your planet?”
The fan appeared to be grinning. If he were a fan of Nadal, Andy Murray or Roger Federer, it might have been a grimace.
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