Djokovic Celebrates Sixth Paris Masters Title

Novak Djokovic (photo: ATP Tour video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 7, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, the top two players in the FedEx ATP Rankings, met for 10th time overall and first time at the Rolex Paris Masters Sunday. Each brought a lot of prestige into Accor Arena for their title match: Djokovic walked out to a thunderous applause deserving of a five-time Paris titlist and Medvedev arrived as the defending champion.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that No. 2 Medvedev denied No. 1 Djokovic of winning a calendar-year Grand Slam in their last meeting at the US Open two months ago. So, not only was there a lot of shared history between the Serbian and the Russian, standing across the net from each other, there was also a bit of a score to settle between them.

“It’s definitely going to be a competitive match where both of us will really want to win,” Medvedev said after easily dispatching World No. 4 and fourth seed Alexander Zverev in Saturday’s semifinal round after Djokovic advanced with a three-set victory over No. 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Just a day after he clinched a record seventh year-end No. 1 ranking, the 20-time major champion Djokovic played for history again on Sunday as he sought to win a 37th ATP Masters 1000 title, which would be the most since the series of nine events was begun in 1990 – and would break the tie of 36 he shared with Rafael Nadal.

“Let’s hope for the sake of the fans and everyone involved we can have a thrilling match,” Djokovic said. “I look forward to that challenge.”

Indeed, the 10th Djokovic-Medvedev clash turned out to be thrilling, from start to finish. Djokovic won his sixth Rolex Paris Masters in come-from-behind fashion, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, in two-and-a-quarter hours. It ended with a 26-shot flourish and provided him with his 14th win of the season after losing the first set.

Djokovic hit 38 winners and 26 unforced errors, while Medvedev countered with 32 winners and 25 unforced errors. Djokovic surprised everyone by relying on a serve-and-volley attack, in which he won 27 of 36 attempts coming into the net. Djokovic outpointed his opponent 94-80.

“You have to find a way to play the right shots at the right time [against Daniil],” Djokovic said during a TV interview with Tennis Channel. “Also, make him play, make him come in. It’s really a variety of ways that wins matches against him. It’s easier said than done.

“We both suffered some grueling rallies but this is what tennis is all about: No. 1 and No. 2 in the world playing in the final of one of the biggest events in the world in front of a packed stadium in the City of Tennis. It was amazing.”

With a chance to avenge the loss that mattered to him the most, Djokovic got off to a shaky start when he was broken in his first service game to start the match. However, a double fault by Medvedev three games later leveled the set at 2-all.

Both settled in and the opening set was punctuated by many lengthy rallies of 15 shots or more, more than half won the Russian. Medvedev surged ahead 4-3 with another break of Djokovic as his backhand volley slice at the net surprised the World No. 1 on the eighth shot of a suspenseful rally. Medvedev consolidated the break with a great escape for 5-3. A game later, he served it out with an easy hold to win the 41-minute opening set 6-4.

Going back to the US Open, it’s the third straight set Medvedev had prevailed over Djokovic by a 6-4 score. With only six unforced errors, the defending champion was on his way. Arguably, he seemed a better version of the World No. 1, who at times seemed to mentally check out of points as his 12 first-set unforced errors attested.

However, in a sudden role reversal, Djokovic extracted an unforced error from Medvedev on a 17-shot rally that ended with a backhand return into the net, and the Serbian had broken ahead for a 3-1 lead as the second set unfolded. It seemed to light a fire within him. Soon, Djokovic backed up the break to jump ahead 4-1 by showing an eagerness to end points early and to not try to out-grind Medvedev.

Djokovic closed out the middle set after saving a trio of break points during a remarkably exciting 11-minute ninth game that lasted 16 points and featured both unbelievable reflexes and racquet skills by both players. On his third set-point opportunity, Djokovic struck his fifth ace to win the 49-minute set 6-3. After a couple of one-way Grand Slam finals earlier this year between the two combatants, this title match would go to a decider like it was meant to be.

On serve through four games and with no break points by either man, Djokovic finally got the break he was searching for – his third of the match – after Medvedev hit a forehand wide that halted a 13-shot rally that gave Djokovic a 3-2 lead. As the final reached the two-hour mark, he consolidated the break with a love hold as his first serve continued to get stronger and became a source of reliable points. The World No. 1 would only need to hold his serve twice more to win another Paris title.

In the ensuing game, Djokovic surprised everyone with his second break of Medvedev in the set. It came at 30-40 as the Russian netted a third-shot forehand return. Medvedev showed his frustration after losing his ability to place the ball in the court.

Now, with the match and title on his racquet, ahead 5-2 – and with the crowd cheering him on with shouts of “Allez” after each point – Djokovic faced a break point at 15-40 after his second double fault. Medvedev roared back with a break of his own, just his third in 10 tries. So, they played on.

However, in the next game, with one last 26-shot rally, Djokovic broke Medvedev for the third time in the set and closed out the two-hour and 15-minute victory with one final burst of energy to win on his first championship-point opportunity. A sixth Rolex Paris Masters title was Djokovic’s to cherish and enjoy, with the Paris fans and with his dear children, Stefan and Tara, who were sitting front row, too.

Later in press, after Djokovic had some time to celebrate and reflect, he called his victory over Medvedev “a very close match, a game of very small margins here and there, a few points.

“Just been very pleased with the way I held my nerves in the end and managed to close out the match with a winner.”

Spirited doubles final won by Puetz and Venus

The doubles final between reigning Roland Garros champions and French heroes Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut and Germany’s Tim Puetz and Michael Venus of New Zealand proved to be a spirited contest that went the distance and was won by the German/New Zealander duo by the slimmest of margins, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 11-7.

Unseeded Puetz and Venus (15-8) dominated the opening set after breaking their opponents to take an early 3-0 lead. Then, the third-seeded Frenchmen (30-11), who were going after a Paris double after winning the French Open earlier this season, rallied to win the second set in a tie break after saving three break points in the 12th game. It set up a match tie-break showdown, in which there was plenty of riveting drama and excitement.

After climbing back from a 5-2 deficit, Venus double-faulted on championship point at 9-7 and it gave Herbert and Mahut an opportunity to draw even. Herbert saved a second championship point with a service winner that Puetz was unable to return. Then, a point later at 10-9, Puetz and Venus had a third championship point – and second on their serve. This time, they didn’t throw away their shot – and won after Venus poached a volley winner at the net that neither Herbert or Mahut were able to react in time and get a racquet on.

“We knew we would need to play our best tennis,” said Venus after the title win. “It was an unbelievable atmosphere today and it made the final very special.”

Puetz added, “We started pretty well in Halle, and it helps that we know each other well. We’ve played a good year. Today could have gone either way, but it’s great to have the trophy.”

In press, Mahut said: “This week was incredible. It’s a pity we end this week like this. We would have liked to win the super-tiebreak.

“We gave it our all. It’s always just a pity that we didn’t share the victory with the public.”

The title victory was the second this season by Puetz and Venus after winning their first title together at Hamburg. En route to winning the Paris Masters crown, they defeated three teams that qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals – Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, and Herbert and Mahut.

By the numbers

• The 2021 Rolex Paris Masters final was the second one in tournament history (since 1986) with the two top players in the rankings playing each other. The first time came in 1990 between Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, won by Edberg when Becker retired at 3-all in the opening set.

Novak Djokovic is the only player to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 events. His 54 Masters 1000 finals are also a record (37-17). Sunday’s Rolex Paris Masters title was Djokovic’s 86th overall title.

“Quotable …”

“To be honest, I enjoyed my time off and spent plenty of time with my family and spent time at my tennis center in Serbia where, you know, I have a lot of work to do and some other things that occupy my time.

“I wasn’t bored without tennis, so to say, but, you know, I like competing so I was looking forward to come to Paris and the biggest reason coming here was to clinch the year-end No. 1. Now that I managed to do it, it’s a huge relief, as well.”

Novak Djokovic on his post-US Open sabbatical, then returning to Paris and achieving the year-end No. 1 ranking.