For the first time since 2011, the ATP’s brief tour through Asia will end without Novak Djokovic winning a title.
Djokovic was knocked out in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-4, of the Shanghai Rolex Masters on Saturday by Roberto Bautista Agut in what is a stunning upset, even after considering the World No. 1’s shaky form of late.
The definition of a hard-working, very-good-but-not-great player, Bautista Agut notched his first career win over a current top ranked player (0-1 vs Rafael Nadal and previously 0-4 against Djokovic; never faced Roger Federer when he was No. 1) to reach his first career Masters 1000 final.
Competent on all surfaces, the 28 year old Spaniard is a bit of a chameleon, as his best surface almost depends on his opponent. In this particular matchup, Bautista Agut was aided by the faster surface in Shanghai, which helped his forehand hit through Djokovic’s defenses better than on the rain-soaked clay-turned-sludge in their four set battle earlier this year at the French Open.
Djokovic appeared to set himself up for another comeback (he was stunningly challenged in the quarterfinals by journeyman Mischa Zverev, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3) when he recovered breaks twice in the second set, including saving three match points at 5-3. Instead, Bautista Agut broke Djokovic for the fourth time in six service games to close out the biggest victory of his career.
Whether it’s health, burn out or both, Djokovic still appears off from his peak form of the first half of this season, having won just one of five tournaments since completing the “Nole Slam” and the Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros.
Earlier this week, he discussed his new strategy of humming between points to prevent from becoming enraged, but that zen-like state didn’t last long. On Saturday, he got into arguments with controversial chair umpire Carlos Bernardes (to be fair, Bautista Agut did as well), demolished his racquet after getting broken to drop the first set, and ripped his shirt again:
It’s only Djokovic’s third loss in Asia this decade, all in Shanghai semifinals. His results since 2009 (first year of Shanghai):
2009- Beijing title, Shanghai SF (Davydenko)
2010- Beijing title, Shanghai SF (Federer)
2011- Did not play (back injury)
2012- Beijing and Shanghai titles
2013- Beijing and Shanghai titles
2014- Beijing title, Shanghai SF (Federer, also 6-4, 6-4)
2015- Beijing and Shanghai titles
2016- Beijing DNP (elbow), Shanghai SF
Bautista Agut will face Andy Murray in the final, who handled a strangely even set of opponents throughout the week, beating Steve Johnson, Lucas Pouille, David Goffin and Gilles Simon. “RBA” is guaranteed to rise to a career-high 13th (thwarting Nick Kyrgios of doing the same) and would climb to 11th if he were to pull off another upset for the trophy.
Murray, meanwhile, continues his late stage pursuit of the top ranking. Djokovic will see his 1000 champion points from 2015 drop to 360, while Murray will replace 360 points from last year with at least 600, and 1000 should he win the title.