PARIS Serbia's Novak Djokovic shrugged off a brave challenge from crowd favorite Gael Monfils to claim the Paris Masters title with a 6-2 5-7 7-6 win on Sunday.
World number three Djokovic, who had outclassed Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals and had dropped only one set en route to the final, had to dig deep to win his second title in as many weeks.
Outplayed at first, Monfils, seeded 15th, thrilled a partisan 14,000 crowd packing the Bercy hall by fighting back to win the second set and recovering from 4-1 down to level the decisive set before losing it 7-3 in a tiebreak.
Djokovic, who beat world number one Roger Federer in the Basel final week, showed signs of nerves at times and had to wait for Monfils to double fault on the first match point to seal victory after two hours 43 minutes.
"It was incredibly tough," Djokovic said after winning his fifth title this year but his first in 2009 in the showcase Masters 1000 Series.
"Gael is very unpredictable. He was hitting the ball well and he's got a strong serve. At first I played unbelievable but then he started coming back, with the crowd on his side."
The 22-year-old Serb has won 76 matches this year, more than any other player, although disappointing results at major events stopped him from getting anywhere near the number one spot.
His current form suggests, however, that he will be the favorite at the season-ending November 22-29 World Tour Finals in London and could give Federer and Nadal a run for their money in 2010.
Relying on his devastating forehand and hardly making an error, Djokovic wrapped up the first set in just 30 minutes.
The second set's script was similar at first, another unforced error from Monfils handing Djokovic a 2-0 lead, and a crushing win looked on the cards but the Serb then dropped his guard, enabling his opponent to find his way back into the match.
Monfils seized his chance by hitting a return winner to manage the telling break in the 11th set and serve for the set, which he took with a service winner.
The Frenchman, playing his first final in a Masters 1000 event, then staged his remarkable comeback in the third set under roars of appreciation from the crowd but was left still chasing his third career title.
"He played very well at first and there wasn't much I could do but I kept believing in myself and really fought for it," said Monfils, who has a record for collapsing when it matters but came really close to a spectacular win.
"I managed to fight my way back into it and I nearly made it," he added, clearly moved. "It's a pity, really."
(Editing by John Mehaffey)