Djokovic, Hurkacz Set Up Paris Showdown After Quarterfinal Wins

Novak Djokovic (photo: Eva Matan)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 5, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

There were plenty of incentives in play Friday at the Rolex Paris Masters in Bercy, as the business end of the final ATP Masters 1000 tournament of the season pared down the elite eight to the final four for the weekend at raucous Accor Arena.

Last ticket for Turin punched by Hurkacz in Paris

First, Hubert Hurkacz arrived for his Friday quarterfinal match against James Duckworth with a clear objective. The No. 7 seed from Poland knew that if he could beat the 55th-ranked Australian and gain a berth in his second ATP Masters 1000 semifinal, it would clinch for him the eighth and final spot in the Nitto ATP Finals later this month in Turin.

After two hours and 12 minutes, Hurkacz did just that. The usually mild-mannered Polish star celebrated with a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-5 victory. Upon securing match point, Hurkacz showed a huge display of emotion for him – a leaping fist pump and a huge smile to go along with it – as he raised both arms in triumph.

Hurkacz, 24, became just the second Polish man following Wojtek Fibak in 1976 to earn a berth in the year-end finale. It’s the culmination of a season in which Hurkacz reached a career-high No. 10 in the ATP Rankings and won three ATP Tour titles.

“It’s obviously a dream come true to be at the Finals,” Hurkacz said during an on-court interview. “I played at the Next Gen Finals, so I thought to myself maybe one day I would get to the main one. I’m just super happy.”

With a big match to start the day in Paris, things looked good for the World No. 10 Hurkacz from the beginning. He won the opening point of the match in a 28-shot rally with Duckworth. Although Hurkacz lost the game, soon he enjoyed a double-break lead at 5-2 and closed out the 31-minute first set with a flourish at love.

Then, in the 55-minute second set, Duckworth won in tie break 7-4 after hitting a nifty backhand passing shot winner. He had jumped out to a 4-0 lead at the start of the tie-breaker before letting Hurkacz back in it. Both players exchanged service breaks earlier in the set before settling down. Soon, it was on to a decider.

As the final set unfolded, on serve through the first nine games, Hurkacz had lost only one point on his serve in five service games – winning 23 of 24 points. Then, at 5-all, Hurkacz gained a 40-0 lead before Duckworth fought back to deuce. But the native of Wroclaw managed to pull himself out of any danger with a backhand passing shot winner followed by a netted return by Duckworth. At 6-5, Duckworth save two match points. But on the third one, Hurkacz put away the quarterfinal tussle with a backhand lob coming into the net that sailed majestically over Duckworth’s head. It landed just inside the baseline for game, set, match, ticket to Turin. The celebration was on for Hurkacz.

“I’m getting so much support, especially from other athletes. … I’m privileged to be in this position and I hope I am making Poland a little proud,” Hurkacz said. “Interest [in tennis] is growing in Poland also with Iga [Swiatek], who is in the WTA Finals. So, it’s amazing to have both players at the high level. Hopefully, we will have a lot more guys and girls join the top soon.”

Afterward in press, Duckworth, who came up short in gaining his first Top 10 win – he’s now 0-10 – said he would “definitely” take a lot of positives away from his week in Paris. “Since playing Miami, I feel like I have been playing some good tennis and improving. There’s still a few areas I need to get better at to get higher up the rankings,” he said.

Djokovic continues his mastery of Fritz

Next, also seeking his second ATP Masters 1000 semifinal was Taylor Fritz of the United States, who had the unenviable task of facing 70-time ATP Masters 1000 semifinalist Novak Djokovic. The World No. 1 from Serbia, a five-time winner of the Rolex Paris Masters and 36 ATP Masters 1000 crowns overall, came in 21-0 against Americans since the start of 2017 – including 4-0 against Fritz.

With Djokovic in pursuit of a record seventh year-end No. 1 ranking, which he could wrap up this week in Paris, Fritz has been playing some of the best tennis of his career. A semifinal showing at Indian Wells and a runner-up finish in St. Petersburg – plus reaching the quarterfinals in Bercy – has lifted Fritz to No. 1 among American men.

However, the 34-year-old Djokovic continued his mastery of Fritz, winning 6-4, 6-3 in an hour and 13 minutes. Despite being broken three times by Fritz, in the end, the 24-year-old American was unable to find the consistency necessary to beat Djokovic. A stretch volley winner enabled the top seed to advance to the semifinal round against Hurkacz. Djokovic received a thunderous ovation from his legion of fans after securing match point. He saluted them in his customary fashion by raising his arms to the sky, facing one side of the arena at a time.

“Coming into the tournament, I was absent from the Tour for almost two months,” Djokovic said during a Tennis Channel interview afterward. “Most of the other guys played one or two events prior to the Paris Masters. So, obviously, I knew I needed to start well and play with a lot of intensity. I put a lot of hours on the training court trying to get myself ready. It’s a whole different story when you start to play points, when there’s the pressure and different emotions with playing a competitive match.

“[Against Marton Fucsovics and today] I did have ups and downs. I’m not really pleased with the way I was closing out the sets. … I lost [my] serve both sets. Those kinds of things should not happen – I know that – but I backed myself up with good returning. I was reading Taylor’s big weapon – his serve – very well, and giving myself a chance to be in the rally. Overall, I closed out [the] last couple of service games well and that’s a positive.”

Djokovic was his usual fighting self on the court, coming back this week since a self-imposed sabbatical following his loss in the US Open final in September. He finished with eight aces and hit 22 winners to 15 unforced errors. He won 74 percent (25 of 34) of his first-serve points, and converted five of nine break-point chances. Djokovic outpointed Fritz 63-43.

As Fritz left Court Central to a well-deserved round of applause, he had a lot to be proud of with three quality wins – against Lorenzo Sonego, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev and No. 10 seed Cameron Norrie – but he still hasn’t shown the right stuff to beat Djokovic, who advanced to his 71st ATP Masters 1000 semifinal against Hurkacz.

“Hubi is an established Top 10 player who just qualified for the last eight in Turin,” Djokovic said. “It was a huge burden and I saw how he celebrated on the court. I’m happy for him, he’s a fantastic guy who works hard. He’s enjoying the best results of his life, winning Miami and reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon. He’s up there, one of the main contenders.

“Now, we’re in the final four and anything can happen. Hopefully, I’ll be able to be at my best.”

Rock star-like Gaston and Medvedev play in festive atmosphere

Later, as the evening session began, 103rd-ranked qualifier Hugo Gaston of France, fresh off the high of his improbable 6-4, 7-5 victory over Carlos Alcaraz – in which he won the final seven games of the match – sought to become the lowest-ranked player to beat a Top-2 opponent in Rolex Paris Masters tournament history when he took on World No. 2 and second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia. He came out on the court after his rock star-like introduction and the crowd immediate got noisy in a hurry.

If successful in pulling off another big upset, Gaston would be the lowest-raked player to earn a Top-2 win on the ATP Tour since No. 175 Thanasi Kokkinakis beat No. 1 Roger Federer at Miami in 2018. Following Gaston’s victory against Alcaraz, it was revealed that he’d wrapped up a berth in next week’s Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, Italy, where Alcaraz will be the top seed following the earlier withdrawals by Jannik Sinner and Felix Auger-Aliassime, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Race To Milan.

Certainly, Accor Arena took on an incredible Davis Cup-like atmosphere that was off the charts – like a “festival” as Tennis Channel commentator Jason Goodall described it – and they stood and cheered every point that Gaston won, raising the roof in the process. During changeovers, they did the wave.

Medvedev did his best to calm the crowd by holding his serve and going about the business of trying to win the match, which he did 7-6 (7), 6-4 in one hour and 13 minutes.

In the first set, Gaston broke to go ahead 5-4, but Medvedev stymied his 21-year-old opponent by saving three set points and broke Gaston on his second try after the Frenchman netted a backhand return to kill a nine-shot rally. Back on serve, a tie break decided the outcome of the set. At 8-7 on his third set point, Medvedev won after Gaston sailed a forehand long as the match hit the hour-long mark.

Then, after building a double-break 4-0 lead, Gaston chipped away at Medvedev and got one of the breaks back as he strung together three straight winning games, cutting the Russian’s lead to 4-3. The crowd continued to do its best to will Gaston back into the quarterfinal contest. Several times, chair umpire Fergus Murphy did his best to quiet them. Medvedev stopped the bleeding with a his 11th ace to hold at 15 for a 5-3 lead, needing just one more break or hold to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round. After Gaston held to pull within a game, Medvedev, 25, responded affirmatively by winning the match on his second match-point opportunity on a third-shot forehand winner.

Medvedev fired 13 aces and hit 33 winners to 29 unforced errors. He outpointed Gaston 82-73 by winning 71 percent (39 of 55) of his first-serve points and converted three of six break-point chances. Gaston, who conceded a nine-inch height advantage to Medvedev, hit 19 winners and made 22 unforced errors.

Looking back, cooler heads like Medvedev prevailed when many in the crowd lost theirs. Although Gaston’s giant-killer run had ended, coming up a little short against the World No. 2 Medvedev, the mostly-French fans gave their beloved player one last hurrah – a standing ovation – on his walk off Court Central and he waved appreciatively back at them.

“What an amazing atmosphere,” Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier remarked. “The crowd went absolutely bonkers for the home-town hero. The reverberation of 16-17,000 Parisians having a great time inside an indoor arena, you love watching it.”

When Medvedev was asked in press to describe the arena atmosphere, he explained it this way: “It was a tough match, I have to say, in front of a very difficult crowd.” And how about facing Gaston? “He played very well. He’s very strong. He had some opportunities,” Medvedev said.

“He hits the ball well. He can hit it strongly. He did it at crunch moments. His drop shots are famous. It’s not easy to run always forwards.”

Zverev beats Ruud to set up rematch with Medvedev 

Finally, a day after locking up the No. 7 qualifying berth for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy – and becoming the first from Norway to achieve that feat – Casper Ruud came to Accor Arena seeking the biggest win of his career against World No. 4 and fourth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany. The No. 6 seed Ruud and Zverev are tied for the most tour-level titles this season with five.

Zverev, who won the Erste Bank Open in Vienna last week, still remains in the chase for a sixth ATP Tour title and third ATP Masters 1000 crown this year after winning at Madrid and Cincinnati, after he bested Ruud 7-5, 6-4 in an hour and 36 minutes. His victory sets up an enticing semifinal clash with Medvedev in a rematch of last year’s Paris championship match.

The 24-year-old German won 86 percent (37 of 43) of his first serve points and outpointed Ruud 69-59. He’s now won 28 of his last 30 matches going back to the start of his gold medal run at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I thought he served extremely well today which made it very difficult to break,” Zverev said after his win. “I’m happy with the win and to be in the semifinals.”

Around the Accor Arena

With the singles quarterfinals locking up Court Central for the day, the doubles quarterfinals made Court 1 its home base. Three seeded teams – No. 3 Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, No. 5 Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, and No. 6 John Peers and Filip Polasek – were part of the elite eight vying for semifinal berths Friday.

In the first quarterfinal, Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand defeated Fabrice Martin of France and Andreas Mies of Germany, 7-5, 7-5. Next, they will play Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil. In the second quarterfinal, the British/Brazilian duo, who qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin on Thursday, took out Cabal and Farah, both from Colombia, 6-1, 7-5.

Then, in the third quaterfinal, Peers and Polasek advanced by retirement over Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, both of Belgium. They were ahead 7-5, 3-0 at the time the match was halted. Peers and Polasek will take on the French duo Herbert and Mahut, who beat wild cards Benjamin Bonzi and Arthur Rinderknech, both of France, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in the fourth quarterfinal.

Friday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Saturday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

Alexander Zverev is 8-3 in his last 11 meetings with fellow Top-10 players and 28-2 overall since start of Tokyo Olympics.

“Quotable …”

“If the public is against me, well, my aim is win the match no matter what. If the public is against me, I have to make do.

“Sometimes, I have to draw upon this energy and say it’s for me, even if it’s not the case. This is why it’s easier when the crowd cheers me. There were times, especially during the third set, where I could feel the crowd supporting me because there were crunch moments, and I really loved it. That enabled me to win the third set.”

– No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev on the atmosphere inside Accor Arena at the Paris Masters during his third-round match against Sebastian Korda.

More Medvedev:

“I feel Russian, I can’t lie to you people. But my team is French, my sponsors are French, I practice here, I speak French, I live in Monaco. So yes I feel at home here.”