Novak Djokovic gave no chink of light to his rivals as he demolished Kei Nishikori at the ATP World Tour Finals in London then spoke movingly about his experience meeting Syrian refugees.
As part of his role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, the world No 1 travelled to Belgrade in September to visit one of the child-friendly spaces that has been set up to support some of the thousands of refugees and migrants travelling through Serbia.
I’ve seen a lot because Serbia has been through a lot of troubles. But this was one of the most hurtful emotions I could feelNovak Djokovic
Djokovic, who has a one-year-old son, said: “It was really touching. It was really hard for me to experience that.
“I’ve had many humanitarian or charity activities in my life. I’ve seen a lot because Serbia in the last 20 years has been through a lot of troubles, economic difficulties and war, and so forth. But this was one of the most hurtful emotions and circumstances I could feel.
“Honestly, playing with a child, 30 seconds later the mother comes, she takes him away from me, she says, ‘We have to go, we have to leave now, we have to walk for I don’t know how many miles to get to they don’t even know where’. I mean, it’s terrible what’s happening.”
The O2 Arena paused for a minute’s silence prior to Djokovic’s match with Nishikori to remember the victims of the Paris attacks on Friday, with red, white and blue bathing the court. But once the opening singles match of the tournament began, it was very much business as usual for Djokovic as he took just 65 minutes to chalk up a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
It was a 23rd consecutive win for the Serbian, who has lost only one set since the US Open final two months ago. He is even more dominant indoors than elsewhere. He is unbeaten since 2012 and is bidding to become the first player to win four successive World Tour Finals titles.
The world No 1 oozed confidence as he talked about his display, saying: “I think I was at my best. Undoubtedly it’s been an incredible performance that I was hoping I can have coming into the match, coming into this tournament where I’ve had a great record in the last couple of years. Reflecting back on those memories of course gives me more confidence, more comfort coming into every single match.”
Djokovic has not lost at the season-ending tournament since 2011, when Janko Tipsarevic beat him in the round robin stage. The Serbian is having the best season of his career. He reached the final at all four Grand Slam tournaments, winning three of them. His only loss in a major this year came in the French Open final, when Stan Wawrinka beat him in four sets.
“Many different things came together that I managed to have the year I have today,” Djokovic said. “Why I’m able to continue on and kind of maintain this consistency or this success is because I’m trying to not think too much in advance because whatever happened in the past is behind me and whatever is in the future, I don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t think too much about it.”
Nishikori has qualified for the tournament for a second straight year but the Japanese player is struggling with an abdominal problem.
“I think my serve was the key. Both sets I lost my first service game,” said Nishikori. “He played unbelievable tennis. I’m very ashamed with this score, but I have two more matches.”