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Novak Djokovic to focus on life off court as Andy Murray threatens for No.1 ranking

Novak Djokovic plans to celebrate his son Stefan’s second birthday on Friday and focus on his life off the court rather than tweak his late-season schedule to fortify his threatened No.1 ranking against Andy Murray’s year-end assault.
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Despite the Serb’s recent form issues manifesting in a 6-4, 6-4 semi-final loss at the Shanghai Masters to Spanish 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, Djokovic said he had no plans to play again before the Paris Masters, starting on October 31.

Murray, who was to face Bautista Agut in his career-best 10th final of the season on Sunday night, is playing an additional tournament in Vienna before Paris. The world’s top two are scheduled to finish at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November, where Djokovic is the defending champion.

While a finals victory in Shanghai would leave Murray just 1190 points behind Djokovic, the world No.2 insists the year-end summit is not a realistic ambition. He is being conservative. It still can be done.

“My goal is not to try and reach No.1 this year,” Murray said. “I’d have to win pretty much every match between now and the end of the year. And Novak would not have to win hardly any. So it’s not in my hands.

“I want to try and get there, but I don’t think doing that by the end of this year is that realistic. So I just want to try and finish this year as strong as I can. Maybe give myself a chance at doing it the early part of next year.”

After a dominant start to the year, Djokovic has won just one title – the Toronto Masters – since the emotional completion of his career grand slam at the French Open in June. After being eliminated in the third round at Wimbledon, he was beaten in his Rio Olympics opener and lost to Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final.

His early departure from China came after he ripped a shirt, smashed a racquet and clashed with chair umpire Carlos Bernades. Djokovic’s nerves fraying just as his usually-immaculate game recently has.

“There are definitely things that I need to [regain] kind of from the emotional/mental point of view,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, I guess I’m focusing on that more, so it’s a transition somewhere in between. Maybe just exhausted by the amount of matches I have had in the last 15 to 20 months. So maybe all in all that’s the cause of me feeling this way.

“But I had to experience sooner or later this. I knew I could not go on playing on highest level for so many years all the time, you know, but it’s good to experience this so I can hopefully get better in the period to come.”

Asked about Djokovic’s difficulties, Murray said it was not his place to offer advice to his long-time rival and friend, but added: “I do think that after everything he’s achieved and the kind of dominance that he’s had, it takes so much effort and work to be making finals almost every single week for two years.

“I mean, it’s a really, really hard thing to do. And it’s maybe normal if he’s mentally a little bit tired or trying to find the next thing for him to achieve after what he did at the French Open, as well.

“So I do think it’s pretty normal, and I’m sure he will get it back. But it’s just normal to have a period after what he’s done the last few years where he’s maybe not as dominant as he was.”

Among the more telling comments of the week was one from Bautista Agut, who was 0-5 against Djokovic before their semi-final, and had taken just two sets from the Serb in a history dating back to 2013.

“I’m so happy I could beat him, no?” said the Masters 1000 finals debutant. “The first time I remember I played him I thought he was from another planet, and now I think I’m closer to him.”

Many players will be sharing that sentiment. In a changing tennis landscape, Djokovic may be clinging to the mountain-top, but the pack, headed by Murray, is closing. Fast.

Linda Pearce is a guest of the Shanghai Rolex Masters

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