MIAMI — Moments after top-seeded Novak Djokovic demolished Kei Nishikori6-3, 6-3 in the final of the Miami Open on Sunday, the new record-holder for Masters Series 1000 titles (28) trotted back out onto the court. He genuflected and gently patted the purple asphalt surface, the way you might pat the head of a cute puppy.
Djokovic feels genuine affection for that court, and no wonder. It was on that court, still surrounded by palm trees, strafed by pelicans, perpetually buffeted by swirling, hot breezes, that he won his first Masters tournament way back in 2007.
I was 19 years old in 2007, just making my way to the top, Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I’m still very proud of what I achieved that day.”
Djokovic has never been famous for having a sentimental streak at other events, so his gesture as well has his comments about the Miami court are striking.
“Every year that I come back I go through these memories,” Djokovic continued. “That first win opened a lot of doors for me, and it gave me self-belief. This is a particular place for me to come back to, now winning it six times. Today was my best performance of the tournament at the best time against a quality player.”
Nishikori committed 29 unforced errors in the final, which lasted just 1 hour, 26 minutes. He hit only 10 winners — four fewer than Djokovic. Nishikori put in only 52 percent of his first serves and won only 45 percent of his second-serve points (compared to Djokovic’s 60 percent).
Djokovic pointed out that Nishikori likes to “protect” the baseline and dictate. Djokovic put the kibosh on that strategy, helped by the fact that Nishikori played one of his poorest matches of the tournament in the final, while Djokovic stepped up his game.
“The best matches I played at Miami and at Indian Wells were the finals at both events”, Djokovic said.
All this means that Djokovic is building a great case as a potential challenger to Federer as the all-time Grand Slam champion. With 17 majors, the 34-year-old Federer remains six up on Djokovic, who won’t turn 29 until mid-May.
The only other player with more than two major titles to his credit is Rafael Nadal (14), who has been mired in a deep, multiyear slump. Djokovic’s path is clear, his health has been outstanding and his confidence is soaring.