Novak Djokovic shocked he is ending year as world No.1 after rapid route back to top spot

It has been a brilliant second half of the year for the Serb. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Novak Djokovic shocked he is ending year as world No.1 after rapid route back to top spot

LONDON: Novak Djokovic revelled in his “perfect” five months as he took aim at his sixth ATP Finals title with the year-end No.1 ranking in the bag.
The Serb, who won Wimbledon and the US Open, earlier this week replaced the injured Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s rankings and is guaranteed to end 2018 in top spot.
Speaking before the start of the season finale at London’s O2 Arena, the Serb said next to the Grand Slams and the ATP Finals, reaching the number one spot was the “ultimate challenge” in the sport.
“I’m very proud of that achievement and I understand that it’s extra special this year because of the journey I’ve been through in the last 15 months, especially and particularly in the last eight to 10 months.
“After February’s elbow surgery it looked quite improbable that I would be in this position as the year-end No.1, not just because of the rankings — I was 22 (in May) — but just because of how I felt on the court, how I was playing.
“But there was always part of me that believed I could make it back and I never thought it was impossible. I just thought at the time it might take more time than I wished it to be.
“It turned to out to be a perfect five months of the year, with two Grand Slam titles,” he added.
“Of course, unfortunately Nadal had to withdraw from all of his tournaments after the US Open so he was not in that race but at the same time I thought it was a great five months that is crowned with this achievement.”
The 31-year-old Djokovic underwent surgery on his right elbow in January after the Australian Open, which was his first tournament in six months.
He struggled to find his best tennis when he returned to the court but reached the final of Queen’s before winning Wimbledon and the US Open.
Since the start of Wimbledon he has won 31 out of 33 matches.
Djokovic is seeking his fifth ATP Finals title in London to go with his first, which he won in Shanghai in 2008.
If he wins the tournament, which starts on Sunday, he would draw level with Roger Federer with six wins in total.
Djokovic is in Group Guga Kuerten along with Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and John Isner while Federer is in Group Lleyton Hewitt with Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori.
Each player plays the other group members, with the top two advancing to the semifinals.
Djokovic also confirmed that he would not be playing Nadal in the exhibition match in Saudi Arabia in December because of the Spaniard’s injury.


England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

Updated 18 November 2018
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England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

  • Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from manager Southgate
  • England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead

LONDON: Harry Kane fired England into the Nations League semifinals as Gareth Southgate’s side scored twice in the last 12 minutes to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over Croatia on Sunday.
England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead against the run of play in the second half at Wembley.
But Southgate’s vibrant young side pulled off a stirring escape act in the closing stages to gain a measure of revenge for their World Cup semifinal defeat against Croatia earlier this year.
Jesse Lingard came off the bench to poach England’s equalizer and captain Kane was on hand to turn in the winner with five minutes left.
England’s fightback took them to the top of Group A4, above Spain and relegated Croatia, and they can look forward to playing in the last four in June next year.
It was a cathartic moment for England, who have made a habit of suffering painful defeats against Croatia, with this year’s World Cup woe following the 2007 loss that cost them a place at Euro 2008.
More importantly, the performance provided further tangible proof that Southgate is building a team capable of challenging for the major prizes after years of under-achievement.
England’s appearance in the semifinals of the Nations League, which are set to be held in Portugal next June, offers another chance to reach their first major final since 1966.
Following the 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Seville last month, this tournament has been a serious statement of intent from Southgate’s team and they will go into 2019 with great expectations.
From start to finish, England were the dominant force, although they were fortunate to escape when Ante Rebic shot over after Jordan Pickford fumbled Fabian Delph’s backpass.
Kane slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Raheem Sterling and the Manchester City winger’s blistering pace sent him clear of the Croatia defense.
With only Lovre Kalinic to beat, Sterling let Croatia off the hook as he directed a hesitant shot straight at the keeper.
England kept probing intelligently, with the speed of Sterling and Marcus Rashford providing their main threat.
Delph’s pass sparked a frantic sequence, forcing Kalinic to dash out of his area to head away from Sterling.
When Kalinic’s clearance fell to Kane, the England captain’s effort was headed off the line by Tin Jedvaj.
The rebound fell to Kane, but Kalinic, by now back in his goal, used his legs to foil the Tottenham striker with a last-ditch save.
It was more of the same at the start of the second half, but once again England couldn’t find the killer touch.
That profligacy looked as though it would prove fatal when Croatia snatched the lead after 56 minutes.
Kramaric was allowed time and space to turn in the area and the Hoffenheim forward took full advantage, clipping a shot that deflected off Eric Dier and looped over Pickford’s despairing dive.
Southgate responded by sending on Lingard and the change reaped an instant reward as England equalized in the 78th minute.
Joe Gomez’s long throw was flicked on by John Stones and Kane prodded past Kalinic, leaving Lingard with the simple task of tapping in from virtually on the goal-line.
England’s deserved winner arrived in the 85th minute.
Ben Chilwell curled over a teasing low free-kick and Kane timed his run to perfection, guiding his shot past Kalinic from close-range.
Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from Southgate, who leapt into the air as he punched the air on the touchline.
Kane had joked with his fiancee this week that he would cry if England ever win a trophy, but he couldn’t guarantee he would weep when they get married.
Thanks to their thrilling comeback, England could bring a tear to Kane’s eyes in the Finals next year.