Djokovic Clinches Record Seventh Year-End No. 1 Title With Paris Triumph

Novak Djokovic (photo: ATP Tour video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 6, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

With half of the eight Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers in action at the Rolex Paris Masters on Saturday, the semifinals of the season’s last ATP Masters 1000 tournament had an end-of-the-year flavor to it. The lively theatrics and loud atmosphere – full of fanfare – lent to the overall experience inside Accor Arena.

First, there was five-time Rolex Paris Masters and five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Novak Djokovic taking on Hubert Hurkacz, who garnered the eighth and final spot at the year-end championships with his Friday quarterfinal victory.

Then, a pair of former Nitto ATP Finals champions, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, followed in the second semifinal. It was a rematch of their 2020 Paris final that Medvedev won. The World No. 2 from Russia, who is the reigning US Open champion, had beaten the Tokyo Olympics gold medalist from Germany three straight times and the Paris Masters provided him with a chance to go for number four on Saturday.

As the top-seeded Djokovic continued his chase after a record-breaking 37th Masters 1000 title in his 71st Masters 1000 semifinal, he brought a 2-0 head-to-head win-loss record into his match with No. 7 seed Hurkacz. It was their first meeting since Wimbledon in 2019 – and, as it turned out, it would be a memorable and record-breaking one, which Djokovic won 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (5) in two hours and 17 minutes.

With his victory over Hurkacz, Djokovic clinched his seventh year-end No. 1 title and broke the tie he shared with Pete Sampras, who compiled six straight year-end No. 1 finishes between 1993-98. Now, Djokovic has achieved the year-end No. 1 feat in seven of the last 11 seasons (including 2011-12, 2014-15, 2018 and 2020-21). At age 34, he’s also the oldest year-end No. 1 in ATP Tour history.

“Just proud and extremely happy,” Djokovic said, reacting to his clinching year-end No. 1. “Obviously, that was one of the biggest goals and it’s always one of the biggest goals, to try to be No. 1 and end the season as No. 1.

“To do it for the record seventh time and surpass my childhood idol and role model, Pete, is incredible. Very grateful, very blessed to be in this position.”

With the pressure of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy erased, Hurkacz was able to go out and take more risks against the World No. 1 Djokovic. For the first set, it worked as Hurkacz broke Djokovic with a backhand volley passing shot down the line for a winner to go ahead 5-3, then consolidated the break to win the 33-minute opening set.

“It feels incredible. Obviously, going to Turin is a dream,” the World No. 10 Hurkacz said in press on Friday after his quarterfinal win against No. 55 James Duckworth of Australia. “Growing up as a kid, seeing all those top guys playing in the Finals, it’s inspiring. Now, being among them, it’s very special because it’s just eight spots there. So, it’s not that easy to get there.”

However, Hurkacz was quickly humbled in the second set by Djokovic, who broke the Polish star three times as he got his rhythm going and won the second set in bagel fashion 6-0. The Serbian engaged in and won the battle of baseline rallies, and also watched as Hurkacz committed 13 unforced errors.

Then, working on his 13th comeback win of the year, Djokovic broke Hurkacz in the fourth game of the decider, converting on his fourth break-point opportunity with a forehand winner to lead 3-1. Soon, Hurkacz broke back with a forehand winner of his own that capped an eight-shot rally and consolidated the final set at 4-all. After Djokovic gained a match point (at 5-4, 40-A) by winning a 25-shot exhcange, Hurkacz saved it when the Serbian hit the 10th shot in the ensuing point wide. Hurkacz held his serve and history remained at bay. Following an easy hold by Djokovic, Hurkacz held to force a decisive tie break.

After an exchange of mini breaks to start the tie break, at 5-all, Djokovic broke to go ahead 6-5 after Hurkacz netted a fifth-shot return. Then, nearly 17 minutes after his first match-point opportunity, he won it on his serve after Hurkacz hit a backhand wide on the eighth shot, confirmed by replay review. The victory was Djokovic’s to savor.

Djokovic raised his arms in celebration and pounded his chest three times as he let out a big roar of approval. Then, he saluted the Accor Arena crowd, who reciprocated him with thunderous applause. Djokovic is now 7-0 in Paris semifinals as he goes after his first Masters 1000 title of the year on Sunday.

“Obviously, I’m thrilled and overwhelmed with wonderful emotions,” Djokovic said during a Tennis Channel interview. “It was a goal for the end of the season, my biggest motivation this week. I felt pressure, obviously – it’s always there as Billie Jean [King] says, it’s a privilege. It means that you’re doing something that you love, you care about something when you feel it. I know how much dedication and work – and care – went into achieving this historic seventh time as year-end No. 1, not just for myself, but my family, my team, everyone around me. It’s amazing to be able to clinch that prize in the semifinals. I’m going to feel a little bit mentally coming into the finals.”

The World No. 1 Djokovic finished with five aces and hit 22 winners to 26 unforced errors. He won 77 percent (33 of 43) of his first-serve points, converted four of 12 break points and outpointed his opponent 97-84. Hurkacz countered with 12 aces and 31 winners but committed 40 unforced errors.

Later in press, Djokovic said: “You know, job is not done. Obviously reaching the finals of one of the biggest tournaments that we have in our sport on our tour is something that, you know, stands out regardless of the year-end achievement that is completed.

“So hopefully going to have another great match tomorrow, and then take it from there.”

Medvedev stymies Zverev in Paris rematch

Second seed Daniil Medvedev dominated No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev throughout their 80-minute semifinal with his relentless, flat groundstroke attack and the World No. 2 easily won 6-2, 6-2 to advance to Sunday’s final against Djokovic. It’s the 25-year-old Russian’s second straight trip to the Paris Masters final, and he’ll be going after his second straight Masters 1000 title this season following his triumph at Toronto in August.

After winning his first major at the US Open, Medvedev has eclipsed 50 wins – currently he’s 53-11 – and also won titles this season at Marseilles and Mallorca in addition to Toronto. Meanwhile, until being stymied by Medvedev, the German had been on fire since the start of the Tokyo Olympics. His Paris loss ended an eight-match winning streak and was just his third defeat in his last 31 matches.

Although Medvedev hit just 14 winners, he also only made eight unforced errors. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Zverev imploded with 35 unforced errors, including 17 on his backhand side. Medvedev outscored Zverev 65-43, which included converting four of five break points. He saved all three break points he faced and with the win leveled his career head-to-head with Zverev at 5-5.

During a post-match TV interview, Medvedev assessed going head-to-head with Djokovic in the final, where he trails their series 5-4. “What’s good at this moment for me is if I’m playing Novak, it means that we’re in the final. There’s no other way around at the ATP Finals, where it can be different. That’s what I’m most pleased of,” he said. “It’s always tough to play Novak. To beat him, you have to be at your best – it’s the only way. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do tomorrow.”

Puetz and Venus reach doubles final without dropping any sets

Unseeded Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand advanced to the doubles final with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil in an hour and 28 minutes.

They will meet the winner of the second semifinal, No. 3 seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, both of France, who rallied to defeat No. 6 seeds John Peers of Australia and Filip Polasek of Slovakia, 2-6, 6-3, 11-9, in an hour and 29 minutes.

On serve through the first 10 games, Puetz and Venus broke Murray and Soares to go ahead 6-5 and Puetz served his team’s fourth ace to win the opening set 7-5. Then, Puetz and Venus broke in the fifth game of the second set to lead 3-2 and the German/New Zealander duo broke for a third time in the final game to close out the semifinal victory.

Puetz and Venus, who have won one title together this season at Hamburg en route to a 15-7 win-loss record, have not dropped any sets in their four victories this week in Paris.

Meanwhile, 2019 Paris Masters champions Herbert and Mahut were lifted by the raucous pro-France audience that stayed after the singles semifinals concluded to root for their French heroes. In the match tie-break to decide the outcome, Herbert set up match point with a wide-out ace to the deuce court, then watched as Polasek hit a third shot long on the last point of the match.

Saturday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Sunday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

Daniil Medvedev is 64-11 overall, 19-1 indoors and 14-3 against fellow Top-10 players since the start of 2020 Paris. He swept Alexander Zverev en route to championships at 2020 Paris, the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals and the 2021 ATP Cup. His semifinal win Saturday was his fourth straight against Zverev.

“Quotable …”

“When you play the second-best player in the world, the slightest error is incredible. But I have to think about what I have done during this match, during the tournament. I’m still happy about what I have done so far.”

Hugo Gaston of France, who entered the main draw as a qualifier and made a run to the quarterfinals before losing to World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev Friday evening.