Djokovic In London: Right Shots, Right Time, Game On

WASHINGTON/LONDON, November 20, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

When five-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2018 champion Alexander Zverev squared off at the Nitto ATP Finals Friday afternoon in London, the objective facing each was clear: Win and move on to Saturday’s semifinals, lose and go home.

With their 2020 pandemic-interrupted season hanging in the balance, Djokovic reached his ninth Nitto ATP Finals semifinal with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory in one hour and 36 minutes. He hit 18 winners to overcome his 13 unforced errors and saved each of the three break points he faced from Zverev.

The victory improved Djokovic’s record this season to 41-4, including 2-1 this week in London. The World No. 1 moves on to face Group London 2020 winner Dominic Thiem in Saturday’s semifinals, while Group Tokyo 1970 winner Daniil Medvedev will face Rafael Nadal in the other semifinal match.

The World No. 1 came in holding a 3-2 career head-to-head win-loss record against Zverev, including two meetings at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals, where Zverev lost in group play only to beat Djokovic for the title. This time, the Serbian did what he does best. He broke Zverev early and took advantage of his opponent’s poor second-serve, in which the 23-year-old German only won five points in 14 chances. Djokovic outpointed Zverev 70-65.

“I felt great,” said Djokovic during an on-court TV interview after his win. “Early in the first set, he had a couple of break point chances. I managed to serve well in the important moments and contrary to the last match against Daniil, I just managed to find the right shots at the right time.”

In this Group Tokyo 1970 elimination match, Djokovic jumped out to a 3-0 lead at the beginning of the first set, outscoring Zverev 12-2, by dictating most of the rallies. He increased his lead to 4-1 by winning 90 percent (9 of 10) of his first-serve points. Then, Djokovic faced two break points on his next service game at 15-40. However, he averted trouble by winning four consecutive points with the last two coming on a pair of overhead smashes to hold serve. A game later, Djokovic closed out the 33-minute set with a pair of winners, the last on a backhand up the line. Zverev didn’t play badly as his 11 winners and 4 unforced errors can attest. Djokovic just played better, with 11 winners, five-of-five points won at the net, and he lost just three points on his first serve.

In the second set, Djokovic escaped trouble when he saved a third break point and held his serve during a 12-point fourth game for 2-all. As the match reached the one-hour mark, Djokovic escaped another challenging service game and held after being behind 15-30. Then, Zverev held with his eighth ace and Djokovic countered when he hit a forehand winner for 4-all. Then, Zverev rebounded with his ninth and tenth aces – plus his 21st winner – in an easy hold game that was one of his most confident of the entire match. Yet, Djokovic remained on serve. Later, Zverev’s 11th ace sewed up a love hold and ensured the German of no worse than a tiebreak for his effort, but Djokovic did his part by holding his serve.

It was on to the second set tiebreak, where Zverev jumped ahead 2-0 with a mini-break. Then, Djokovic, who had lost only one tiebreak (15-1) all season (against Kyle Edmund at the US Open), leveled matters at 2-all. He went ahead for good with a 4-3 hold, and followed it with a passing shot winner to break for 5-3. An unforced error by Zverev gave Djokovic a 6-4 advantage and set up match point. Djokovic didn’t disappoint and he won the match with one final eight-shot rally that went his way. It came down to Djokovic hitting the right shots at the right time.

“Sascha, I have tremendous respect for him,” Djokovic said. “He’s a great player, huge serve. Obviously, not easy to return the 140 miles per hour first serves. Sometimes, [you] just have to pick your side, block, hope you can be in the exchanges in the rallies from the back of the court.

“It was really anybody’s game; I think for most of the match. In the tiebreak, I just read his approach from 4-3, served well when I needed to, to close out the match.”

During his post-match analysis, Tennis Channel’s Paul Annacone said: “Djokovic did what he does best, he broke early and took advantage of Zverev’s second serve. He fought off some break points; there were some great rallies. Both tried to break each other’s rhythm. There were a lot of great points. … Novak was just a bit better at the big moments.”

Hall of Fame Jim Courier, appearing on Tennis Channel Live, said: “It was a tough start for Zverev. [He had] double faults when he was down break point. That will rattle you a little bit. But then he was right back in it. He had break-point chances to get back into the first set. Novak was just a little too good on those points.

“This was one of those matches where Sascha [Zverev] I don’t think will look back and go ‘Man, I had chances and just didn’t take them.’ Novak just snuffed him out when he had those break points.”

Zverev’s history against No. 1-ranked players remain undistinguished. He’s now 2-4 overall, with a win against Djokovic and against Rafael Nadal at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals. Friday’s loss denied Zverev an opportunity of reaching a third consecutive semifinal berth in his fourth tournament appearance. Instead, his season ended with back-to-back titles in Cologne and a 28-11 win-loss record.

“It was a great year,” said Zverev during his virtual post-match press conference. “Unfortunately, I lost a lot of big matches. … I lost [in the] semifinals in Australia, which I could have won. I lost in the final of the US Open, which I should have won, kind of. [I lost the] final in Paris-Bercy. This match here. A lot of tough matches, a lot of tough moments, but a good year for me. A lot to build on for next year.”

As for Djokovic, who won four straight Nitto ATP Finals titles from 2012-15, he reached his ninth semifinal spot in 13 trips and very much remains in the hunt for a sixth year-end title. Looking ahead, Djokovic seems eager to play Thiem tomorrow.

“Obviously, earlier in his career [Dominic] played his best on clay, but of course being one of the hardest workers on the Tour and most dedicated players, Dominic found his ‘A’ game on all other surfaces,” Djokovic said. “His first [Grand] Slam [title] came on hard courts earlier this year in New York. I played him last year and lost 7-6 in the third set. It was really a thrilling match. Hopefully, we can have another great match, but hopefully this time with another outcome.”

Medvedev tunes up for weekend, defeats Schwartzman

With solid victories over Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev came into his final group play match against Diego Schwartzman looking to maintain his winning form.

“I finished number one in the group already, which is great,” the 24-year-old Medvedev said. “Of course, I’m going to try to win my third match.”

Medvedev did just that. The Russian beat Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3 in just 73 minutes. The victory was Medvedev’s third this season against Schwartzman and his 26th of the year. He previously beat the Argentine at the ATP Cup in January and recently in the quarterfinals of the Rolex Paris Masters, all in straight sets.

The World No. 4 and fourth seed won the opening set in 37 minutes on the strength of going 13 for 13 in winning his first-serve points, plus breaking Schwartzman twice in six opportunities. Then, he broke in the fourth game of the second set to go ahead 3-1. Medvedev finished off the ninth-ranked Schwartzman with a backhand smash up the line that was returned long.

Medvedev finished with four aces, an 88-percent first-serve winning efficiency (35 of 40), and he saved the only two break points he faced. He broke Schwartzman three times and outpointed his opponent 65-49 to finish group play 3-0. Medvedev moves into the semifinals as the only undefeated of the four players.

Meanwhile, Schwartzman suggested after his loss to Zverev on Wednesday that he was encouraged by his comeback against the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion after losing a one-sided opening set. “I’m happy because I almost did a good comeback,” he said. “The match was going all his way quickly in the first set and second set. Then, I find a way to win the second set and fighting the third.”

Group Bob Bryan doubles goes down to the wire

Coming into Friday’s doubles, any of the four teams in Group Bob Bryan could qualify for the semifinals based on the day’s results. Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (2-0) had the best chance of qualifying. The only scenario in which they would not advance would be if they lost in two sets to Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (1-1) and if Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1-1) defeated John Peers and Michael Venus (0-2) in two sets.

As it happened, Pavic and Soares began with a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 10-8 win over Peers and Venus that eliminated the Aussie/New Zealand duo. During the match tiebreak, Pavic and Soares rallied from a 5-7 deficit by winning five of the next six points. Pavic converted on his team’s second match point with a swinging ace out wide. Because Pavic and Soares won in three sets and not two, it meant that Granollers and Zeballos advanced into the semifinals.

“To be honest,” said Soares during a post-match TV interview, “I don’t really know what we need [this evening]. We are going to watch because we love doubles, we love entertainment. I think we did what we had to do, which is win the match. Right now, it is not in our hands anymore. We have just got to wait and hopefully we come back to play another match tomorrow.”

Later, the evening match ended abruptly when, just before a first-set tiebreak was set to commence at 6-all, Granollers suffered a right shoulder injury and was unable to continue. He received medical treatment and tried to play one point in the tiebreak before walking off the court in pain. The 53-minute match ended with Melzer and Roger-Vasselin declared the winners by retirement – and it knocked Pavic and Soares out of the competition.

With the victory by retirement, which went into the books as a straight-set win, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin won the Group Bob Bryan and advanced to Saturday’s semifinals. They finished 2-1 in matches, 5-3 in sets and 18-5 in games. Granollers and Zeballos also finished 2-1 in matches, 4-3 in sets and 28-24 in games. Pavic and Soares, despite also finishing 2-1 in matches, 5-4 in sets and 39-32 in games, did not advance. They needed a three-set win by either team to reach the semifinals.

Looking ahead to Saturday

Semifinals in both singles and doubles will be held on Saturday. With all four of the top singles seeds through to the knock-out stage, during the day session, Dominic Thiem will play Novak Djokovic and the evening session will feature Daniil Medvedev against Rafael Nadal. The winners will advance to Sunday’s championship match.

In doubles, the afternoon session will feature Group Mike Bryan winner Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic against Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos, while the evening session will pit Group Bob Bryan winner Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin versus Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury. The winners will face off in Sunday’s title match with the World No. 1 ranking at stake.

Nitto ATP Finals results

Nitto ATP Finals standings

Nitto ATP Finals schedule