Djokovic Begins Quest For Sixth ATP Finals Title With Win Over Ruud

Novak Djokovic starts his ATP Finals campaign in Turin (photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images for ATP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The second day of the Nitto ATP Finals featured seven-time World No. 1 and five-time champion Novak Djokovic against No. 8 seed Casper Ruud, who was making his tournament debut at the Pala Alpitour in Turin. It’s been six years since the Serbian last raised the Brad Drewett trophy in triumph. After losing the 2018 final to Germany’s Alexander Zverev, he’s not been back to the championship match.

On Monday, Djokovic began his quest for his sixth Nitto ATP Finals title with a clean start against the 22-year-old Norwegian in their second career meeting after he beat Ruud in Rome last year. This time, Djokovic prevailed 7-6 (4), 6-2 in an hour and 30 minutes.

Overall, the 34-year-old Djokovic looked confident and physically strong against the younger Ruud. After being down an early break at 1-3 – Djokovic was broken in the first game of the match after he took an early tumble – he won the 62-minute first set in a tie-break, 7-4, on his third set-point opportunity. While it was far from the Serbian’s top level – he was off-rhythm at times and missed some second-serve returns – he came on strong in the tie break and finished a 16-shot rally with a forehand winner. It occurred after Ruud saved two set points during a 12-point 10th game.

Then, Djokovic broke Ruud to start the second set and consolidated it for a quick 2-0 lead. From there, he increased his advantage to a double-break lead at 4-1 after breaking Ruud in the fifth game. Finally, serving for the match at 5-2, Djokovic put away the victory on his second match point after Ruud hit a forehand well beyond the baseline. Djokovic, who finished with 10 aces and 23 winners, outpointed Ruud 72-50. He dropped just three points on his serve during the second set while winning 90 percent (30 of 34) of his first-serve points during the match.

Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier, twice a runner-up in the ATP Finals, described Djokovic’s winning effort as a “flurry of brilliance.”

During his on-court interview, Djokovic said: “I recovered from that fall on that break point in that first game. It was very strange. I played a good forehand and came into the net and had a pretty comfortable overhead and I slipped, tripped, dropped my racquet and lost my serve. The conditions are quite tough .If you lose your serve, it is difficult to get it back. But I managed to stay in. I am very pleased with the way I handled the match.”

Later during his press conference, Djokovic added: “It was a really terrible start, but also funny because I’m still trying to figure out what happened. Casper started strong. He was serving well. The altitude, fast court, fast balls – it favours big servers. I knew he had a solid serve, but maybe not as good as Medvedev or Zverev. 

“He did positively surprise me with this serve, particularly in the first set. I just managed to read it better in the second set. But it was a close one.”

Ruud was asked to describe his debut performance in Turin. He said: “It’s not always easy, it’s the first match, I’m sure he was a bit nervous, I don’t know, but I was also a bit nervous and it’s the first time for me on this stage.”

Djokovic, who is making his 14th Nitto ATP Finals appearance, improved to 13-1 record in opening round robin matches. He’s been solid as a rock since losing to David Ferrer in his tournament debut in 2007. Meanwhile, the ATP Finals rookie Ruud was attempting to garner his first career Top 10 win on hard courts after six previous defeats.

With his latest victory, Djokovic improved to 49-6 this season – it was his 13th win against Top 10 opponents in 2021 – and tied Ivan Lendl for the second-most wins in Nitto ATP Finals history with 39. The leader is Roger Federer, who has 59.

Following Djokovic’s win, he was awarded the year-end ATP Tour No. 1 trophy presented by FedEx. It’s the seventh time he’s earned the honor, surpassing Pete Sampras for most year-end No. 1 finishes since the FedEx ATP Rankings began in 1973. He also achieved the year-end No. 1 feat in 2011-12, 2014-15, 2018 and 2020.

Rublev makes a statement in beating Tsitsipas

In the evening session, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia made a statement in defeating No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 31 minutes. The World No. 5 Rublev hit 27 winners – 13 of them from the forehand side – and made just 13 unforced errors. He won all but one of his first serves (17 of 18, 94 percent) in the final set, did not face any break points on his serve the entire match and outpointed Tsitsipas 72-63. It was quite the turnaround for someone who came to Turin having lost five of his last seven matches.

Rublev and Tsitsipas are familiar opponents after having met eight times with the head-to-head even at 4-all. They faced each other in Nitto ATP Finals round-robin play a year ago in London, won by Tsitsipas in a third set tie break. More recently, Tsitsipas, who won the Nitto ATP Finals title in 2019, beat Rublev at the ATP Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo. However, on this occasion, Rublev parlayed a service break in each set to his advantage and finished off Tsitsipas on his first match-point opportunity after he hit a seventh-shot backhand that skidded over the net cord and hit the court before Tsitsipas could react.

Rublev looks forward to the challenge of doing well this week in Turin. “I am not even thinking I have a chance or be a dark horse,” he said during pre-tournament press over the weekend. “I just want to focus on the process. What happened to Daniil, Stefanos and Sascha, winning the ATP Finals title, was because they proved they are top players, and they had the level to be here.

“In my case, I am thinking about the process and I’m happier about how I am doing things on and off the court. It may not happen immediately, but if I keep doing what I am doing, good things will happen and I’ll go deep in a tournament.”

Ram and Salisbury win 100th match as a team

Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain earned their 100th match win as a team Monday afternoon. The No. 2 seeds won their opening Red Group match against No. 7 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, 6-1, 7-6 (5), in an hour and 16 minutes.

In their third Nitto ATP Finals appearance, Ram and Salisbury improved to 3-0 against Murray and Soares, which includes victories this year against the British/Brazilian duo in the Australian Open semifinals and the US Open final. Ram and Salisbury are now 41-16 this year, while Murray and Soares are 25-14.

Herbert and Mahut continue dominance of Columbia duo

In Monday evening’s doubles match, 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champions and 2018 finalists Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, the No. 3 seeds from France, improved their career head-to-head advantage against No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Columbia, to 7-2 following their 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory in an hour and 32 minutes.

The Frenchmen, this year’s Roland Garros champions, are making their sixth year-end appearance in the past seven years. This was their third  Nitto ATP Finals victory against the Colombians, following their previous success in the 2018 semifinals and in 2019 round-robin play.

Berrettini unsure whether injury is a recurrence

During his press conference Sunday night after retiring from his match early in the second set against Alexander Zverev, Italy’s Matteo Berrettini said he’s unsure whether the left oblique injury he sustained is a recurrence of the same problem that sidelined him for two months following the Australian Open earlier this year.

“It is mentally really tough for me because I used to have an injury close to the same area, so it is tough to play,” the No. 6 seed Berrettini said. “Also, I don’t know what it is. I have to figure out what it is and then if it is nothing really big, maybe I can play. [Monday] with my team and the doctor I will do some checks and I hope it won’t be something that won’t let me play the next two matches.

“I just felt around the same area on the serve. I got scared and the mental part is the most important part. I remember coming back from that injury, to serve at full power I had to be brave, which is not easy when you felt something before. It was just impossible to keep playing.”

If Berrettini is unable to continue, he would be replaced by first alternate Jannik Sinner of Italy.

Monday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Tuesday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

At age 34, Novak Djokovic is trying to become the oldest Nitto ATP Finals champion and just the second player to win the title after turning 30. Roger Federer won his sixth title at London in 2011 at age 30.

“Quotable …”

“London was very successful for the Nitto ATP Finals. It is one of the most spectacular arenas in the world [and] it couldn’t be a better setting really in front of a packed house each afternoon or evening. It was fitting for the most important event that the ATP owns. But I have always been a proponent of moving this tournament regularly, maybe every three or four years.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia, World No. 1, who is a proponent for rotating the Nitto ATP Finals among the world’s great cities.