Djokovic Begins Paris Title Defense Filled With Confidence

Novak Djokovic (photo: Christophe Guibbaud / FFT)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 1, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Novak Djokovic has always enjoyed lots of success at the Rolex Paris Masters. Throughout his career, he’s been a six-time champion in the French capital city, always performing strongly at the ATP Tour’s final Masters 1000 event of the season.

Coming in, the World No. 7 Djokovic had lifted the Rolex Paris Masters trophy in each of his previous two appearances, in 2019 and 2020. This time, he also brought a nine-match Paris winning streak on court with him at Accor Arena for his second-round match against French-born American Maxime Cressy, and with it plenty of confidence after winning consecutive titles this fall in Tel Aviv, Israel and Astana, Kazakhstan to go with earlier crowns won at Rome and Wimbledon. He’s reached five finals in his last seven tournaments this season.

When Djokovic spoke during his pre-tournament press conference on Sunday, he said he feels “great” playing in the Paris Masters event. “[I’ve had] lots of success. [It always helps to come into the tournament confident and with some good memories, good emotions on the court. [The] past few times that I played here, I won both tournaments. … Hopefully, I can continue that run.”

Against Cressy, Djokovic played solidly from first ball to last-ball winner – a backhand touch volley. By the conclusion of the one-hour and 42-minute featured matinee on Court Central, the sixth-seeded Serbian hit 19 winners, made just five unforced errors and gained the respect and admiration of the 25-year-old, 34th-ranked Cressy. Djokovic won 7-6 (1), 6-4 for his 17th consecutive win to move into Thursday’s third round  World No. 19 Karen Khachanov of Russia, who defeated 61st-ranked Swiss qualifier Marc-Andrea Huesler, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in an hour and 54 minutes on Court Central. Khachanov, whose last title was won in Paris in 2018, hit 10 aces and 29 winners.

“It was very intense, just a lot of pressure,” Djokovic said in his post-match interview. “When you play someone that serves this well — first and second serve — you don’t have much room to relax and maybe play kind of a softer few games. You just have to be on your toes all the time. Credit to him for serving big in some big moments. I had my chances [in the] first set to break him, second as well.

“A break came at the right time, perfect time actually. I was very pleased with the way I held my serve, didn’t face a break point.”

Djokovic withstood Cressy’s serve-and-volley attack, which produced 15 aces and 36 winners. He outpointed his opponent 76-56, aided by winning 92 percent of his first-serve points. The victory improved Djokovic’s lifetime win-loss record at the Rolex Paris Masters to 42-8.

“I think at this level it’s important to have a good feeling on the court and just good memory of coming to a place where you have done well,” Djokovic said Sunday, “because, you know, tennis is a game of fine margins that decide who is going to take a win in the match.”

Ruud returns to winner’s circle in Paris

World No. 4 and third seed Casper Ruud kept his nerve despite having to deal with the partisan Parisian fans who were cheering for French favorite Richard Gasquet during Tuesday’s evening session opener. After the Norwegian raced to win the opening set 6-1, the 76th-ranked Gasquet settled down and fought to get back into the second-round match.

Although Gasquet recovered to force a tie-break in the second set, Ruud prevailed on his second match point and won 6-1, 7-6 (7) in an hour and 23 minutes to advance to the next round against either No. 23 Lorenzo Musetti of Italy or 106th-ranked  Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, who play Wednesday. Ruud’s victory over Gasquet was his 48th of the season as he chases after his fourth title of the season.

Ruud hit 23 winners, made just nine unforced errors and outpointed Gasquet 65-45. He broke a two-match losing streak after losing a pair of first-round matches in Tokyo and Basel.

Nadal excited to be back in Paris

World No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain has been idle since his fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open in early September, save for making a cameo at the Laver Cup to play doubles with Roger Federer. Although Nadal has won a pair of majors this season, at the Australian Open and Roland Garros – his 21st and 22nd – he has also dealt with a variety of injuries up and down his body, too.

“It’s true that have been an amazing year in terms of results, but at the same time is true that have been a tough year in terms of injuries,” Nadal said during his pre-tournament press conference Tuesday afternoon. He will bring a 38-5 win-loss record for 2022 into his first match on Wednesday. Nadal, who is seeking his first Rolex Paris Masters title, will face No. 31 Tommy Paul of the United States, who took out 20th-ranked Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-4, 6-4.

Now, Nadal is back in Paris – excited – and wants to be competitive as another long season winds down. “Just excited to be here. I am here to try my best. Then accept the things how the things are coming, no?,” he said. “Hopefully I will be ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to try to be competitive. Let’s see. I am excited about it.”

Asked to describe his mindset at this point of the season, Nadal said: “To be clear, I don’t fight to be number one. I fight to be competitive to every event where I play. I will not do it anymore at this stage of my career. I had this goal in the past, I was happy and proud to achieve that, the first time in 2008.”

Around the Accor Arena

• World No. 9 Andrey Rublev overcame big-serving John Isner of the United States to win 6-2, 6-3, to reach Thursday’s third round. The victory improved the 25-year-old Russian’s chances of earning a berth in the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin. He remains in competition with Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz and Hubert Hurkacz for the final two spots in the eight-player field.

Currently, Rublev is seventh in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin with 3,530 points and occupies the final qualification spot, 495 points ahead of Fritz. He could face Hurkacz in the next round.

Although Isner hit 11 aces and struck 19 winners, Rublev won 83 percent of his second-serve return points on his opponent’s serve, breaking three times. It was Rublev’s 49th win of the season and it was the first time in four career meetings that he had beaten Isner.

“It is a really important win at this moment when I am fighting for Turin,” Rublev said in his post-match remarks. “I think I was a bit lucky. It was his first tournament since his bad injury. From the baseline I was feeling really confident. As soon as I was returning and the ball was in play, I felt I had an advantage and wasn’t nervous.”

• World No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, knowing he needs to advance to the Rolex Paris Masters final to have a chance to qualify for his second straight Nitto ATP Finals, began his journey with a solid 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over 43rd-ranked wild card Adrian Mannarino of France. It was his 41st. win of the season.

“I knew to grind a little bit today,” Hurkacz said in an interview with Tennis Channel. “I was doing that and trying to stay as confident as possible.”

The 10th seed wrapped up his one hour, 48-minute triumph with his 20th ace and 27th overall winner. Hurkacz outpointed Mannarino 76-72, converting his only break-point chance while saving all eight break points he faced.

Next, Hurkacz will face No. 18 Holger Rune of Denmark, runner up in Basel last week, who saved three match points en route to defeating No. 153 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), in two hours and 29 minutes, ending after midnight on Court 1. Rune hit 10 aces and finished with 42 overall winners.

• No. 14 seed Pablo Carreño Busta won a battle of Spaniards over No. 39 Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-3, 6-3, winning 81 percent of his first-serve points and saving all three break points he faced. He outpointed his opponent 75-56 to advance against No. 16 Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who beat No. 30 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4, just two days after losing the title match in Vienna on Sunday.

• No. 27 Daniel Evans of Great Britain hit 28 winners and advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win over No. 50 Brandon Nakashima of the United States. Next, Evans will face World No. 5 and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

• No. 45 Jack Draper of Great Britain, who went 22-2 indoors on the ATP Challenger Tour this season, winning four titles from January through April, won his Paris debut over No. 42 Arthur Rinderknech of France. The 20-year-old Draper defeated the French No. 1, 6-3, 6-4, in 90 minutes on Court Central, benefiting from winners while taking advantage of 27 unforced errors. The win advanced Draper to face No. 16 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States in the second round.

Draper has already qualified for next week’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.

• No. 59 Fabio Fognini, who reached the main draw as a lucky loser after fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini withdrew due to a foot injury, gained a touch of revenge against 308th-ranked French qualifier Arthur Fils Tuesday afternoon on Court 2. It was Fils who eliminated Fognini in the final round of qualifying Sunday and became the youngest French qualifier since Gaël Monfils in 2004. This time, Fognini beat the 18-year-old Frenchman 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2, in two hours and 34 minutes. Next, Fognini will play 28th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who struck 30 winners and outlasted No. 35 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) in a contentious first-round match on Court 1.

• French qualifier Corentin Moutet, ranked 64th, upset No. 26 Borna Coric of Croatia, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, to move into the second round against No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain. Moutet overcame 21 unforced errors by hitting 26 winners while breaking Coric’s serve twice during the two-hour and 36-minute match.

“I’m quite happy to get the upper hand. He’s quite a good player right now. I knew I could do it. I believed in myself,” Moutet told reporters (translated from French) after his win.

Tuesday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Wednesday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

Richard Gasquet is 0-16 in France against Top-5 opponents, including 0-5 at the Rolex Paris Masters and 0-9 at the French Open.

“Quotable …”

“Right now, I’m feeling really tired. On the court I felt very tense. It’s been a difficult day. Very long day. I played well the last weeks, so I knew I could play well. But it was difficult to focus on the game, especially facing Andy, and I never have a good feeling when I have to face him.

“So, the beginning of the match was very tough. The match, as a whole, was very tough at different levels, at different moments. I’m so happy to have won it, because it started off very badly, and I felt that he decreased, his level to finish the set.I was able to push forward at that moment and I was able to win.

“Usually, it’s the other way around when I play him. So, I’m happy to be the winner for once.”

Gilles Simon of France, 37, during his post-match press conference following his three-set win over Andy Murray Monday evening, which was his 503rd career victory. (Translated from French to English.)