Novak Djokovic enjoyed a dream return from injury as he claimed the Japan Open title with an emphatic straight sets win over John Millman in Tokyo on Sunday.
Playing in the Japanese capital for the first time, Djokovic beat the Australian qualifier 6-3, 6-2 in the final – marking the 10th time in which the Serbian has lifted a trophy on his main draw debut at a tour-level event.
The top-ranked Serb did not drop a set in his five matches at Ariake Colosseum with the closest set, 7-5, coming against home favourite Go Soeda in the second round.
In his final three matches, against fifth-seeded Lucas Pouille, third-seeded David Goffin and Millman – all of whom have made a Grand Slam quarter-final, Djokovic lost a total of 15 games.
“I didn’t drop a set all week so I played fantastic tennis,” said Djokovic who will play in next week’s Shanghai Masters.
“There are not many negatives here that I can point out so I’m going to Shanghai with great confidence and hope I can finish the year in style.”
Sunday’s final followed a familiar pattern to his previous matches here with Djokovic breaking Millman to go up 3-1 in the first set with a perfectly placed forehand volley to the corner.
“Obviously the key was to try to fight off the resistance early in the match because he didn’t have much to lose playing finals from qualifications,” Djokovic said.
“He came out and played pretty well but I made that crucial break and I was serving very well which allowed me to get a set advantage.”
The second set was even more dominant as Djokovic broke his opponent twice to go up 3-0 then held serve the rest of the way.
Djokovic retired with a left-shoulder injury during his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka at the US Open but has shown no lingering effects in Tokyo, losing only four first-serve points and hitting six aces.
“I didn’t know until one week before the start of this tournament that I would be here,” Djokovic said. “That’s when I made a decision with my team that I was ready to play.”
The 32-year-old Serb is making a push to finish as year-end No 1 for the sixth time, which would tie the mark held by Pete Sampras.
Elsewhere, Naomi Osaka found further redemption for a string of disappointing performances over the summer with her second consecutive title in Asia at the China Open on Sunday.
Osaka bounced back from a set down to top-seeded Ashleight Barty, cruising through the final two sets to defeat the Australian 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and accomplish her goal of returning to winning form on the tour’s Asian leg.
Osaka’s win follows the two-time Grand Slam winner’s victory last month at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in her birthplace of Osaka, Japan, her first singles title since the Australian Open in January.
“Honestly, all I was thinking about was how much I wanted to win so that made me very emotional,” Osaka said after the match.
“In the second set I just tried to rationalise everything and then in the third set just continue what I was doing.”
Japan’s most dominant player came into the tour’s swing through Asia determined to make a statement following what she has called an on-and-off year that included a string of poor performances in Europe and America.
“For me, this was my goal. After I lost in the US Open. I really meditated on it. It just feels like I accomplished what I set out to do,” Osaka said.
Osaka’s shaky start on Sunday included a trio of double-faults midway through the first set that helped put the French Open champion in the driver’s seat.
The second and third sets were an entirely different story, however, with Osaka bringing her service game under control and pounding her returns down the line.
After breaking Barty in the seventh game, victory was all but assured, despite an attempted comeback by the Queensland native in match’s final minutes.
In the men’s final, top-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem beat Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.