SHANGHAI - Novak Djokovic's Masters Cup triumph marked the end of a four-year Shanghai sojourn for the tournament and might also have brought down the curtain on the Roger Federer era at the season-ending championships.
Roger Federer of Switzerland waves goodbye to the crowd following his loss to Andy Murray of Britain during their Masters Cup tennis match in Shanghai November 14, 2008. [Agencies]
Federer had played in the previous seven Masters Cups and the last five finals, losing out only in 2005 when David Nalbandian came back to beat the injured Swiss in a fifth set tiebreak.
This week, though, the 13-times grand slam winner bowed out in the group stage for the first time when, hampered by injury and illness, he lost a titanic clash with Briton Andy Murray.
That was his 15th defeat in a season when he lost his world number one ranking and beloved Wimbledon title to Rafael Nadal, prompting speculation that 2008 might have been the beginning of the end for the Swiss master.
"The fact is that he's one of the best -- maybe even the best player -- that this sport has ever had," said world number three Djokovic, whose victory on Sunday brought him to within 10 points of Federer in the rankings.
"But he's reached a certain point when certain players start to win against him, and then you lose a little bit of the confidence with the loss. The other players start believing more that they can win.
"For him it's a big challenge to come back next year. It's still not over. Roger is the second in the world and he's intending to get the top spot back next year."
Federer, who started the season suffering from glandular fever and ended it in Shanghai with a back injury and a stomach upset, put a positive spin on his 11th season as a professional.
"I was happy I could win the U.S. Open for the fifth straight year," he said. "I'm looking forward to next year to go for six.
"It's been a good year. But tough to start off with. Tough to end. So obviously a little bit of mixed feelings. But I think it gives me the opportunity to start over all new again next year."
World number four Murray, who along with his fellow 21-year- old Djokovic will be looking to break the Federer-Nadal duopoly next year, said talk of terminal decline was premature.
"He's still playing great," said the Scot.
"Nadal's had one of the best years in tennis over the last 20 years and he's still not that far behind him. He's maybe lost a few more matches than normal but it's not totally surprising. Normally he loses like seven matches a year, which is ridiculous."
Losing finalist Nikolay Davydenko, who has an 0-12 career record against his fellow 27-year-old Federer, said the new generation of young players like Djokovic and Murray were now a threat to Federer, particularly when he was not fully fit.
"He's already been number one for many years," said Russia's world number five. "He can't play good for all his life. There are some really young players coming up, 21, 22 years old. They're fast, have very good concentration and are physically better.
"Because I see that Federer is not physically perfect at the moment. That's why the other players have more chance to beat him."
The Masters Cup will take place in London next year and the Qizhong arena will host a new Masters series tournament.