November 15, 2015: The day Novak Djokovic completed the longest winning streak at the ATP Finals

Every day, Tennis Majors looks back at some of the biggest moments in tennis history. On November 15, 2015, Novak Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori in the ATP Finals to set an all-time record of 15 straight wins in the competition

Djokovic_Nishikori OTD 15/11/15

What happened exactly on that day

On this day, November 15, 2015, in the opening match of the ATP Finals, the world No 1 and triple defending champion, Novak Djokovic, defeated Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1 in 65 minutes. It was his 15th consecutive win at the ATP Finals, which was an all-time record, and although his winning streak would end two days later, the Serb would go on to claim a record fourth consecutive title at the famous year-end event.

The players: Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori

  • Novak Djokovic: World No 1, three-time defending champion

Novak Djokovic was born in 1987. He entered the top 100 in 2005, finishing the year as world No 83. In 2006, he made a name for himself by reaching the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros while ranked only No 63, after he beat world No 9 Fernando Gonzalez in the second round. His breakthrough year was 2007, when he reached the semi-finals at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon (stopped each time by Rafael Nadal) before making his way to the US Open final where he was defeated by Roger Federer (7-6, 7-6, 6-4). At the start of 2008, he triumphed for the first time in a major tournament, edging Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open (4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6). Djokovic then remained world No 3 for the next three years, often reaching the last rounds of major events where Federer and Nadal kept preventing from adding more major crowns to his list of achievements.

Things changed in 2011, when Djokovic played a close to perfect first half of the season. Triumphing at the Australian Open at Andy Murray’s expense, he remained undefeated for 43 matches, until Federer beat him in the semi-finals of Roland-Garros. Since then, the Serb had accumulated six new Grand Slam crowns (Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, the US Open in 2011, the Australian Open in 2012, 2013 and 2015). Although he had been challenged for the world No 1 spot, especially by Nadal in 2013 and 2014, he had spent more than 150 weeks on top of the ATP rankings since 2011. In 2015, after his Australian Open title, he faced the biggest disappointment of his career at Roland-Garros; having finally defeated Nadal in the quarter-finals (7-5, 6-3, 6-1), he was dominated in the final by Stan Wawrinka, who played flawless tennis to triumph in four sets (4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4). However, Djokovic quickly recovered from that painful loss to triumph at Wimbledon and at the US Open, each time defeating Roger Federer in the final. 

  • Kei Nishikori: Japan’s best ever male player, US Open runner-up

Kei Nishikori was born in Japan in 1989, but he left his home country at the age of 14 to practice at the famous Nick Bollettieri academy, in Florida – with the financial support of Masaaki Morita, the former CEO of the Sony company. He broke into the top 100 in 2008, being the first Japanese player to enter the professional elite since Shuzo Matsuoka, in 1995, after having claimed his maiden title in Delray Beach (defeating James Blake in the final, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4). However, a right-elbow injury, which required surgery in the summer of 2009, delayed him on his way to the top. Nishikori was back on track in 2011, climbing as high as world No 25 at the end of the year, and in 2012, he reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time at the Australian Open (defeated by Andy Murray, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1). Already a superstar in Japan, Nishikori took his career to a next level in 2014: that year, not only did he claim four titles on the Tour, but, above all, he also reached the final of the US Open, where, after having eliminated the world No 1, Novak Djokovic, he was finally defeated by Marin Cilic (6-3, 6-3, 6-3). He was the first Japanese player to ever obtain such a great result in a Grand Slam tournament. He won three other tournaments in 2015 and reached the quarter-finals at both the Australian Open and Roland-Garros – however, he was surprisingly defeated in the US Open first round by Benoît Paire (6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4), and his results throughout the indoor season were rather disappointing. He still qualified for the year-end Masters Cup as world No 8.

The place: The O2, London’s Docklands

Founded in 1970, the year-end Masters was the showdown between the eight best players in the world of that year. Held in a different location every year at the start, in settled at the Madison Square Garden, in New York, from 1977 until 1989. Since then, the tournament had moved several times again:  Frankfurt (1990-1995), Hanover (1996-1999), Lisbon (2000), Sydney (2001), Shanghai (2002), Houston (2003-2004), then back to Shanghai in 2005, until 2009, when the Masters, now named the ATP Finals, moved again to London. As only the eight top players of the year qualify for the event, the list of its former champions is nothing short of impressive. 

Djokovic beat Federer with a straight-sets triumph (6-3, 6-4) to take his fifth ATP Finals title.

The facts: Djokovic proves unstoppable in London

Although the year-end ATP Finals only featured the very best tennis players in the world, Novak Djokovic’s achievements in recent years had made his first-round clash against Kei Nishikori look lopsided. The Serbian, world No 1 without an interruption since July 2014, had won no fewer than nine Grand Slam tournaments since 2011. Undefeated on the Tour since his loss against Federer in the Cincinnati final, in August, he was also the triple defending champion at the ATP Finals – which made him one of only three players in tennis history to have won the prestigious event three times in a row, along with Ilie Nastase (1971-1973) and Ivan Lendl (1986-1988). Since 2012, he had won 14 straight matches at the year-end tournament, as, in 2014, Federer had withdrawn from the final due to an injured back.

Meanwhile, Nishikori, who had defeated Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the 2014 US Open, had not played to his usual standards since his first-round loss to Benoit Paire at the US Open that year. His only remarkable result had been reaching the semi-finals in Tokyo, where he was defeated by the same Paire (1-6, 6-4, 6-2).

In the end, after a minute of silence before play began in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris – which had happened two days before, on November 13,  Novak Djokovic simply outclassed Nishikori in every aspect of the game, prevailing 6-1, 6-1 in 65 minutes. In the entire match, the Serbian lost less than  points on his serve to secure a 15th consecutive at the ATP Finals – an all-time record. 

“I think I was at my best,” said Djokovic, according to Sports Illustrated. “Undoubtedly it’s been an incredible performance that I was hoping I can have coming into the match, coming into this tournament.”

What next: Djokovic loses to Federer but beats Swiss in the final

Djokovic’s winning streak would come to an end two days later, in his second round-robin match, where he would finally be defeated by Roger Federer (7-5, 6-2). However, he would secure his spot in the semi-finals with a win against Tomas Berdych (6-3, 7-5) and he would then go on to become the first player to win the Masters Cup fourth times in a row, taking his revenge upon Federer in the final (6-3, 6-4). 

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