x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Novak Djokovic defends his Shanghai Masters title while Samantha Stosur triumphs in Osaka.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic cradling the trophy after defeating Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the Shanghai Masters on Sunday. Ng Han Guan / AP Photo
Serbia's Novak Djokovic cradling the trophy after defeating Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the Shanghai Masters on Sunday. Ng Han Guan / AP Photo

World No 2 Novak Djokovic held off a fierce challenge from Juan Martin del Potro to defend his Shanghai Masters title with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 victory on Sunday, extending his winning streak in China to 20 matches.

The top-seeded Serbian looked set to wrap up the final in double-quick time after a one-sided first set, but the Argentine, who conquered world No 1 Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, forced the match into a third-set tie-breaker.

Djokovic, who won in Beijing a week earlier, held his nerve in the tie-breaker to win a two-and-a-half- hour match, securing his fifth title of the season. The victory kept alive his slim chances of overtaking Nadal for the year-end No 1 ranking.

“It was a great experience again in Shanghai, with a thrilling performance from both my opponent tonight and myself,” said Djokovic, who had 47 winners.

“I think the tournament had a fantastic final. I’m just very glad to go out as a winner from the court tonight from such a close match. I think either one of us could really take the title.”

Del Potro came into the final brimming with confidence after his semi-final demolition of Nadal, but he was immediately placed on the back foot in breezy conditions at the Qizhong Tennis Centre. The Serbian, 26, established an iron grip on the first set with a double break, dictating the play and not allowing the sixth-seeded Del Potro to produce the thundering groundstrokes that dispatched Nadal.

But in the second set, the Argentine, the winner of last week’s Japan Open, rediscovered the kind of form that he found to see off Nadal, breaking at his first opportunity in a bizarre game in which his Serbian opponent appeared to have trouble keeping his balance.

Djokovic engineered a golden opportunity to hit back, earning three break points in the seventh game, but former US Open champion Del Potro upped his game to hold, going on to level the match. The Serb opened a 4-2 lead in the tie-breaker, going on to seal victory with a backhand winner down the line.

“The match was really close and I think Nole played unbelievable points in the tie-break,” said Del Potro, who thought a poor serve was partly to blame for his slow start. “I was lucky in the second because I broke very early,” he said. “The crowd helped me because they want to watch a longer match, for sure ... I think I played another really good match. But today, I lost.”

Elsewhere, former world No 1 Roger Federer took steps to halt his alarming slide in form. Toward the end of a tough year with no grand slam final appearances, Federer is splitting with coach Paul Annacone.

Federer, who has a record 17 grand slam titles, announced on his website on Saturday that he would stop working with Annacone after three-and-a-half seasons together. The move came two days after Federer’s latest setback, bowing out in the third round of the Shanghai Masters to Gael Monfils. His most recent grand slam title came in 2012 at Wimbledon.

On the women’s tour, Germany’s Angelique Kerber qualified for the season-ending WTA Championship finals in Istanbul after she won the Linz tournament, beating Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 7-6 on Sunday.

The German, ranked 10th in the world but the top-seeded player at the tournament in Austria, beat third-seeded Ivanovic in 97 minutes to win her first title of the year and the third of her career, following successes in Paris and Copenhagen last year.

“At the end, it was pretty close,” said Kerber, 25. “I am very happy to have won because Ana is an exceptional player.”

Kerber experienced trouble getting over the finish line as she had to wait until her fourth match point to win.

“I focused on myself, but I should have been calmer about taking my chances for winning the match,” she said.

Kerber claimed the final spot at the WTA Championships, which features the top eight singles players and the top four doubles pairings competing for a record $6 million (Dh22m) in prize money. The event takes place in Istanbul and runs from October 22 to 27.

The other seven participants in the season-ending tournament are American Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Polish player Agnieszka Radwanska, China’s Li Na, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, Italian Sara Errani and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia.

Meanwhile, Samantha Stosur of Australia fought back from a first-set loss to claim victory on Sunday against rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, winning 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the Japan Women’s Open final in Osaka.

Stosur, 29, won the US Open in 2011 but has struggled mightily at times this season.

“Eugenie was playing really well today, I just had to stick it out in the second set, and I’m pretty happy with how things went in the third,” Stosur said.