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Seems like old times – or not – at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

 Who says Novak Djokovic’s form isn’t as beautiful as Roger Federer’s? Their dead-even rivalry (22-22) includes Nole’s dramatic wins over Fed in the US Open semifinals in 2010 and ’11. Photograph by Charlie Cowins.

Who says Novak Djokovic’s form isn’t as beautiful as Roger Federer’s? Their dead-even rivalry (22-22) includes Nole’s dramatic wins over Fed in the US Open semifinals in 2010 and ’11. Photograph by Charlie Cowins.

Well, there was no Rafael Nadal appendectomy this year or contretemps between Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer’s wife, Mirka, or controversy over whether or not Feddy bailed in the final to lead Switzerland to the Davis Cup.

But the result was the same: Novak Djokovic was the last man standing, winning the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Sunday, Nov. 22, for the fourth time, capping a year in which he became the first player to win $20 million in prize money. Nole and tennis have come a long way.

Of course, given the lack of drama in this year’s tournament… or was there? Methinks I detected just a whiff of passive-aggressive gamesmanship in the press conferences. Nole – eternally handing out chocolates from his native Serbia – said he “handed” Fed a victory early on in the round-robin format, in which you can lose a match and still end up in the final. For his part, Fed – sporting new face fuzz  and already looking ahead to the Australian Open in January – suggested that next year would be a whole new ballgame.  

That same interview contains this nugget:

“Asked if he needed to alter his style of play in a bid to subdue Djokovic, Federer said: ‘Not really because I feel I need to work on my overall game that is going to have an impact against most players.

“‘For me Rafa is the unique player in the field. I used to work more precisely against him.'"

"‘With Novak it's more straightforward. If you don't play very well you are going to have a hard time. If you play better I know I have my chances with my game.’”

Translation: “Nole is run-of-the-mill. Rafa will always be my real rival.”

So that’s Fed’s serve in the game-within-the-game. And here’s Nole’s return on the subject of which rivalry is better – the one with Fed (Fedovic) or the one with Rafa (Rafanole):

"In terms of matches played, maybe the most exciting matches that I've played maybe the Nadal rivalry would be the one I would pick," Djokovic told the media after Sunday's title. "Again, two different rivalries because two different players."

"Those two rivalries made me a better player, the player I am today, no doubt. Made me understand what I need to do both on and off the court to be able to be in this position now."

Translation: “Feddy’s as predictable as a Swiss clock. Rafa is Spanish spice. And I own both of these guys.”

It’s like high school, isn’t it? Fed and Nole are the frenemies locked in a rivalry not only on the court but at the cool cafeteria table over who’s closer to mutual pal Rafa.

Meanwhile in the Another Country Heard From Department, Andy Murray bids to deliver the Davis Cup to Great Britain when the Brits take on the Belgians Friday through Sunday (Nov. 27-29) in Ghent, just 35 miles from locked-down Brussels. (Be safe, guys.) Then there’s team tennis, a brief holiday break, Abu Dhabi, the Hopman Cup….

Tennis is forever – something, I think, both Fed and Nole can get behind.