Novak Djokovic kept his unbeaten streak in 2020 alive as he survived a terrible start to defeat Milos Raonic 1-6 6-3 6-4 in the final of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday.
The 17-time Grand Slam winner fended off Raonic’s mighty serve to extend his 2020 winning run to 23-0, clinching his 80th career title and equalling Rafael Nadal’s record of 35 Masters 1000 wins.
Battling through a neck injury, Djokovic struggled early in the match as he produced four double faults in the first set. Raonic took advantage of the world number one’s misfiring serve to close out the set in just 30 minutes.
“Was a bit slow at the beginning, but I thought I did well, considering the form that Milos is in,” the 33-year-old Serbian told reporters.
“He’s serving rockets on the court, and it’s really hard to return. You need all the freshness mentally and all the focus that you can possibly have.”
Djokovic, who had beaten the 29-year-old Canadian in all 10 of their previous match-ups, came roaring back, unleashing his powerful forehand and winning four straight games in the final set.
The tournament, a final tune-up ahead of the U.S. Open, which begins on Monday, was staged in front of empty stands at Flushing Meadows instead of its usual venue in Mason near Cincinnati, Ohio. The tournament formed part of a secure bubble that was created due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Djokovic faces Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday in the first round of the Grand Slam, which is being staged without any fans in attendance this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“There is a certain tension,” said Djokovic, who was heavily criticised earlier this year after he and three other players contracted COVID-19 during an exhibition event he had organised in the Balkan region.
“Everyone is obviously being careful, but at the same time everyone needs to pay attention and follow the protocols and restrictions that are in place.”