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SHANGHAI – Novak Djokovic maintained his dominance in China by holding off Juan Martin del Potro 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Sunday to capture a second Shanghai Masters title and extend his winning streak in the country to 20 consecutive matches.
The Serb completed a back-to-back sweep of titles at the China Open in Beijing and the Shanghai Masters for the second straight year. He's now won seven titles overall in China — the most he's won in any country.
Djokovic had to overcome a strong challenge from del Potro, who fended off two match points late in the third set, but couldn't put any pressure on Djokovic's serve down the stretch and appeared to fade in the tiebreaker.
"You're a great person and an even better player on the court," Djokovic said to del Potro during the trophy presentation. "I'm sorry you lost today. You deserve this trophy equally."
"What can I say, man, I'm trying to be nice to you," he added, smiling, before giving the Argentine a hug.
It was a tough loss for del Potro, who was trying to win his first Masters title in his third attempt. He was coming off a big win over top-ranked Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, overpowering the Spaniard so completely that Nadal later said: "Very few times I played against a player with a level like today."
Del Potro served notice that he's fully fit and confident after a wrist injury derailed his career after his breakthrough win at the 2009 U.S. Open. He's back up to the No. 5 ranking — his highest in three years — and has beaten Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray this year.
"I think I'm playing even better than many years ago," he said. "I got good things on my career this year. I couldn't win a Grand Slam like I did in 2009, but I reach finals in the 1000 (level) Masters. I already win three tournaments. I beat the top guys, which is fantastic for me."
The match looked like it might be a runaway win for Djokovic early on as he raced out to a 5-0 lead in the first set by dictating play with precise groundstrokes and keeping a sluggish del Potro on the defensive.
But the momentum shifted in the second set when del Potro began connecting on his serve and cracking the same forehand winners he used to sweep Nadal off the court in straight sets in the previous round.
He broke Djokovic to take an early lead, then played a magnificent game to save three break points to hold for 5-2 before closing out the set.
The Argentine appeared to tire slightly as the third set wore on. During one changeover, the chair umpire, Damien Dumusois, warned him that he needed to speed up play between points. "Even after a long rally?" Del Potro asked, looking up wearily. Dumusois nodded yes.
Djokovic had two match points on del Potro's serve at 4-5 in the set, but the Argentine saved them both. The Serb then pulled away in the tiebreaker by hitting a forehand winner to finish off a 24-shot rally to take a 4-2 lead, leaving del Potro unable to manage another comeback.