Djokovic Continues His Chase After ATP Finals History With Latest Victory

Novak Djokovic (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 16, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Novak Djokovic played like a man on a mission. With a semifinal berth at stake against Andrey Rublev in Turin, the seventh-seeded Serbian made quick work of his overmatched opponent Wednesday afternoon. Djokovic rewarded the fans at Pala Alpitour who came to watch – and there was another sold-out crowd of 15,657, including his wife and children – with his excellence.

No matter what Rublev did, the No. 6 seed from Russia had no answers. The eighth-ranked Djokovic qualified for his 11th semifinal in 15 appearances at the year-end championships with a 67-minute 6-4, 6-1 victory. The triumph moved the 35-year-old Djokovic one step closer to a record-equaling six Nitto ATP Finals crown. He became the second player following Casper Ruud to qualify for Saturday’s semifinal stage.

Last year in Turin, Djokovic and Rublev won their openers and met in the second match of group play. Then, Djokovic won 6-3, 6-2 en route to a semifinal berth, which Rublev ultimately missed. Fast forward to Wednesday and Djokovic wasted precious little time and maximized his effort on the quick, indoor hard-court surface.

“I played very, very well. One of the best matches of the year without a doubt against a tough opponent,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview after beating Rublev. “A great competitor, someone who possesses a lot of strengths in his game – his serve and his forehand are big weapons. I managed to find, I guess, the right attitude and the right game.”

After beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 7-6 (4) in his opening Red Group match on Monday, the former World No. 1 Djokovic fired 12 aces and lost only two points on his first serve, winning 94 percent of his first-serve points against Rublev. He hit 19 winners to just six unforced errors and converted three of four break-point opportunities, including on set point to win the opening set, and in the second and sixth games of the second set. The Belgrade native closed out his 43rd win of the season on his first set point with a forehand winner against the 25-year-old Rublev.

“In the 10th game of the first set, I think he was 40-30 up and we played a long rally and I just stayed in there and told myself chances will come,” Djokovic explained. “He went down in his energy a little in the second [set] and I wanted to use the momentum and energy from my side in the first few games and it was a flawless second set. It was an amazing performance today.”

Although Rublev countered with 10 aces and hit 18 winners overall, he also committed 17 unforced errors and was never able to gain a break point against Djokovic. He was outpointed by Djokovic 61-38.

Now 1-1, Rublev will try to reach the semifinals for the first time in three appearances when he plays the 2019 champion Tsitsipas on Friday. The second-seeded Greek star (0-1) faces No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia (also 0-1) Wednesday evening in their 11th career head-to-head meeting. The 2020 champion Medvedev leads the series 7-3.

Mektic and Pavic beat top seeds to earn semifinal berth

Croatian duo Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic defeated top seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in 93 minutes to reach the Nitto ATP Finals semifinal round for the second consecutive year.

While Koolhof and Mektic won the season-ending trophy in London together in 2020, this time they were on opposite sides of the net. The fourth-seeded Croatians, who are 14-time tour-level winners together – including five crowns won this season – jumped out to an early break lead and held steady during a second-set tie-break to prevail. They fired 10 aces and saved three of four break points. Their victory moved them to 2-0 in the Green Group.

“It is great to know that we have qualified after two matches,” Pavic said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It was a great match. Not easy to play them. They had a great season, full of confidence. We have played them once before and we won and now again, so we have a great match up against them. We are happy to be through.”

Mektic added: “The match could not have started better for us.” He pointed to a mini-break at the start of the second-set tie-break that the Croatians built upon. “That was the crucial point in the match. We started with the lead and that is a big advantage on these courts. In the second set we were very confident on our serve, having good looks and making good chances on return.”

Meanwhile, Koolhof and Skupski, now 1-1 after beating the eighth-seeded Australians Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis on Monday, will face No. 5 seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States in their final round-robin match on Friday with an eye toward joining Mektic and Pavic in the semifinals.

Wednesday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Thursday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic is attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles won at the Nitto ATP Finals. He last won the Brad Drewett trophy in 2015. Since then, he’s twice been a finalist in 2016 and 2018. Last year, he lost to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the semifinal round.

“Quotable …”

“Of course, I’m aware of it. Making history in this sport is always a big motivational factor for me. It doesn’t maybe necessarily affect the whole approach to the specific match, because I’m experienced enough and I know myself well and what I need to do in order to prepare for my next challenge and next opponent.

“But of course, I’m aware of the possibility to make history again. It’s a great pleasure and honor to be in that position. So, it does motivate me and inspire me to play even better tennis.”

Novak Djokovic, on chasing after Roger Federer’s record of six Nitto ATP Finals titles.