Tennis

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeats Kei Nishikori for Miami Open title

Novak Djokovic gives a thumbs-up while holding his trophy after beating Kei Nishikori to win the the Miami Open for the sixth time on Sunday, April 3, 2016.
Novak Djokovic gives a thumbs-up while holding his trophy after beating Kei Nishikori to win the the Miami Open for the sixth time on Sunday, April 3, 2016. cjuste@miamiherald.com

The last man standing at the Miami Open continues to be the first man — more accurately, Superman — of men’s tennis. And the way he’s playing, it doesn’t appear he will be turning human-like anytime soon.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic extended his tear through history Sunday by defeating sixth-ranked Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3 in the Miami Open, tying Andre Agassi’s record of six men’s titles in Miami.

Serena Williams owns the overall record of eight Miami titles.

“It’s quite amazing,’’ Djokovic said of the several milestones he achieved Sunday. “Every year that I come back to Miami I go through those memories from back in 2007. [Miami] was the first Masters I won and opened a lot of doors for me, gave me a lot of self belief. I started to realize that I’m able to win the big trophies and beat the best players in the world.”

Now those players are pondering how to beat Djokovic.

The 28-year-old Serb became the first player to win three consecutive Miami Open titles since Agassi did it from 2001 to 2003. And he did it easily, winning the first set in 35 minutes and the match in 1 hour 26 minutes. He also became the new career ATP Masters 1000 titles leader with 28, one more than No. 5 Rafael Nadal.

Even the pelicans were impressed. With the 6-2, 172-pound Djokovic up 4-3 and 40-love in the second set, a pod of pelicans flew overhead in a victory formation. Djokovic looked up, thrust his arms into the air and pointed skyward before taking the game.

He went on to win the set, match and tournament on his third championship point and earned $1,028,300 for the victory, surpassing Roger Federer as the ATP World Tour’s all-time prize-money earner with $98,199,548.

Nishikori, 26, of Japan, took the runner’s-up prize of $501,815 after dropping to 2-7 all-time against Djokovic.

“I hope I can get you next time,’’ Nishikori said a few minutes after hitting a forehand deep to end the agony. “It was a tough match as always. Playing Novak is always tough for me.

“I don’t know for other players, but it’s tough to find his weakness, honestly.”

Djokovic is now 28-1 on the season, his only loss coming after he retired with an eye infection in a late February Dubai quarterfinal match. He has won 23 consecutive sets, 22 consecutive ATP Masters 1000 matches and 16 consecutive matches in Miami at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park. Sunday’s victory gave Djokovic his 63rd career title and 714th match win, moving him past his coach, Boris Becker, who has 713 wins.

“That’s the most important one,’’ Djokovic, nicknamed “The Joker,’’ quipped about the 714 wins surpassing the German legend’s total. “I had a phone call with him. We had a laugh about it.

“I mean, of course I’m very grateful and proud of all the achievements. And the fact that I put myself in a position to make records and have my name in the history books is a great incentive before matches like this. But I didn’t think about it too much. It didn’t impose any pressure.’’

Sunday’s championship was viewed by a rowdy capacity crowd of 13,907 to make the total attendance for the two-week event 300,952 — the seventh consecutive year that the Miami Open has topped 300,000 fans.

And though those fans and men’s finalists were treated to much cooler temperatures than the women’s finalists endured (the thermometer hit 74 Sunday midway through the second set), the tennis was punishing.

Djokovic, who has won 11 majors and would attain a career grand slam with a win at the upcoming French Open, was asked if Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam victories is on his mind — and how he would play against himself if he were on the other side of the court.

“Of course it is in the back of my mind somewhere,’’ said Djokovic, who mentioned a win at Roland Garros as one of his “dreams,’’ as well as winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games. “But I don’t have that as a main motivation. You know what I mean? Because then things can go a little bit out of control.

“Regarding your second question, I can’t answer. Then I would give away too much. But I know what I would play against myself. I know exactly.’’

The answer that the champion kept to himself eluded Nishikori, who was vying to become the first Asian player to win an ATP Masters 1000 event.

The 5-10, 165-pound Nishikori, who lives and trains in Bradenton, fell to 19-6 for the year.

During the seventh game of the second set, Nishikori appeared to injure his left knee. He won his serve to make it 3-4, and a trainer came onto the court during the changeover to examine the knee and massage it.

“No, it was OK,’’ Nishikori insisted, quickly brushing away the question. “It was good.’’

But nothing was good enough to overcome Djokovic’s dominance. The first set began with the two exchanging service breaks before Djokovic broke again twice to go up 5-3 and win the set in a bit more than it takes to watch a weekly sitcom. He won three of those games at love.

“I thought I wasn’t playing too bad,’’ said Nishikori, who had five double faults, including two in the final game. “But at the same time, you know, he played great.’’

Next year’s Miami Open is set for March 20-April 2. Djokovic insisted the Miami Open will continue, despite uncertainty about its future.

“I know from reliable sources we’re going to play in Miami for a long time,’’ the champ told ESPN2 after his win, adding this to reporters about an hour later: “I don’t think we need to have a conversation about moving this tournament anywhere else when we know it’s going to stay here.”

▪ In the women’s doubles final that followed the men’s match, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova defeated Timea Babos and Yaroslava Shvedova 6-4, 6-4 in 1 hour 21 minutes.

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