Novak Djokovic of Serbia secured back-to-back ATP titles on Sunday by edging past battling Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (7/3) in a thrilling Paris Masters final.
The win was the first for Djokovic in the Masters Series this year following four runner-up finishes and it will send him into the season-ending ATP Tour World Finals in London from Sunday to Nov. 29 as the favorite.
But it remains to be seen just how much his efforts at the Paris Masters, and throughout the year, have taken out of him after he completed a tour-leading 94th match of the season.
At 6-2, 3-0 up Djokovic appeared to be cruising toward his first Paris Masters title, but a combination of fatigue and bravado from Monfils saw the home favorite claw his way back into the match.
The 22-year-old Serb again looked set for victory when he led 4-1 in the decider but again Monfils battled back to level at 4-4 and the final went all the way to a tie-break.
Djokovic led from the start in that and clinched the title in two hours, 43 minutes when Monfils double faulted with the Serb at 6-3.
The third seed, who won the ATP tournament in Basel last week after defeating Roger Federer in the final, dominated the 30 minute-long first set, breaking Monfils in the fourth and eighth games.
Monfils, who was playing in his first Masters Series final in his home city, tried to dig deep at the start of the second, saving one break point in the second game, but Djokovic converted on his second opportunity to lead 2-0.
The Serb looked on course for a comfortable win at 3-0 up, only for Monfils to gather his forces and go on the attack.
He finally managed to put some pressure on Djokovic’s serve and converted his first break point of the match when the Serb netted a stinging forehand drive on the volley.
That electrified the packed 15,000 Bercy arena crowd and they had more to cheer about in the following game when “La Monf,” as the 23-year-old is affectionately known in France, held serve to love to draw level at 3-3.
Djokovic suddenly looked unsettled and a couple of unforced errors set up another break point for Monfils, but the Serb erased it with a big forehand wide followed by an easy volley into an empty court.
Two games later the Frenchman had another break point, but again Djokovic drew him out wide and this time Monfils at full stretch was forced to hit wide.
The tide had clearly turned, though, and two more break points followed for Monfils. He converted the second of these by forcing a mistake from a stunned Djokovic with a stinging service return.
Monfils served out to level the set scores, sparking another round of crowd-pleasing chest-thumping from the Paris showman.
The final set was a thriller, with both players fighting both physical and mental fatigue.
Djokovic twice broke serve and twice Monfils battled back to level the scores, leaving the title to be won and lost in a tie-break in which the Serb’s experience of big finals proved crucial.
It was Djokovic’s fifth ATP title of the year and kept alive his hopes of overhauling Rafael Nadal for the world No. 2 spot in the London finals.