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Djokovic Fends Off Cilic Challenge For Beijing Title

Beijing, China

Novak Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic leads the ATP World Tour with 63 match wins this season.

Serbian Novak Djokovic withstood the challenge of eighth seed Marin Cilic to prevail 6-2, 7-6(4) Sunday and win his third ATP World Tour title of the season at the China Open, an ATP World Tour 500 hard-court tennis tournament in Beijing.

Djokovic, who has already secured his berth at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, where he is the defending champion, received 500 South African Airways 2009 ATP Ranking points and $500,000 in prize money. The World No. 4 will usurp Andy Murray and return to No. 3 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings on 19 October after reaching his ATP World Tour-best eighth final of the season.

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Djokovic, who leads the ATP World Tour with 63 match wins this season (63-17 record), captured his 14th tour-level title from his 25th final. It is the right-hander’s second title won on Asian soil after he triumphed at Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai (d. Davydenko) last year. He also won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (d. Blake).

"It’s a great feeling. So far I’ve had lots of success on Asian soil and in Beijing I have only the best memories," said Djokovic. "Last year I reached the late stages of the Olympics and won the bronze medal and this year I won the tournament (China Open). So I have a great record here."

Victory marked the Belgrade native’s first ATP World Tour title since May, when he captured his inaugural hometown title at the Serbia Open 2009 (d. Kubot). In February, he defeated David Ferrer to lift the trophy at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships. The 22 year old has also finished runner-up at four ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments this season and lost out in the Gerry Weber Open final (l. to Haas).

After crushing top seed Rafael Nadal for the loss of just four games in the semi-finals, Cilic looked set to prove a serious threat to Djokovic in his bid to end a five-month title drought. The Croatian started well and created five break point chances in Djokovic’s first two service games before rain suspended proceedings in the fifth game.

Benefitting from the chance to re-group, Djokovic returned after the delay and turned the tables in the match. After holding serve from deuce, the Serb went on to win the next three games to seal the first set 6-2.

The 21-year-old Cilic led by a break of serve three times in the second set, and served to level the match twice, but could not close out the set against a resilient Djokovic, who continually fought back before forcing a tie-break. Unforced errors proved costly for Cilic in the tie-break and Djokovic raced to a 5-2 lead before later sealing victory as Cilic fired a forehand wide after one hour and 54 minutes.

Afterwards, both players thought the rain break to be pivotal in the outcome of the match. "Marin probably had the best tournament of his life. He was going for all the shots, being very aggressive, things were working for him. So I was aware of that," said Djokovic. "I just tried to be patient and wait for the chances. The rain delay helped me out; I got my nerves together and thought about the tactics for the continuation of the match. From that moment on, when I stepped back on the court I was another player and played very well.”

Cilic also lamented his missed break point chances; the Croatian converted just three of 11 opportunities in total. "I think the rain delay took something more out of me than from him and he came back really good. In the second set I was playing well and was three times a break up, twice serving for the set, but in some moments I missed very easy balls and let him off the hook. He was pretty consistent today and took more chances than I did and definitely the break point chances [I could not convert] hurt me in the end."

The No. 15-ranked Cilic won two ATP World Tour titles at the start of the season, at the Aircel Chennai Open (d. Devvarman) and the PBZ Zagreb Indoors (d. Ancic), and was contesting his third final of the season. He had never previously lost an ATP World Tour final, winning his maiden trophy at Pilot Pen Tennis (d. Fish) in New Haven in 2008.

The Zagreb resident, who received 300 South African Airways 2009 ATP Ranking points for his runner-up effort, was contesting his first tour-level main draw since making a Grand-Slam break through at the US Open, where he defeated Murray to reach his first quarter-final (l. to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro). He slipped to a 40-17 match record on the season.

“I think I played well during the week and I’m pretty happy about that," commented Cilic. "Beating Nadal and Davydenko, two matches in a row, was unbelievable for me and coming today in the final I felt really good. Definitely I will be fresh for the other tournaments and now I played a lot of matches here so I’m looking forward to Shanghai.”

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