Djokovic Secures Eighth ATP Finals Title Berth With Win Over Fritz

Novak Djokovic (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 19, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

At times, Novak Djokovic may have looked and played fatigued during his Nitto ATP Finals semifinal match against Taylor Fritz in Turin, Italy on Saturday afternoon. After all, he survived a three-hour-plus tug-of-war against Daniil Medvedev less than 24 hours earlier at the Pala Alpitour to win and go undefeated in group play.

However, never underestimate the former World No. 1’s ability to seize an opportunity – especially when the stakes are high. Against the World No. 9 Fritz, he did just that – and won his semifinal-round match 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) in an hour and 54 minutes to remain unbeaten and reach the Nitto ATP Finals championship match for the eighth time.

The seventh-seeded Djokovic rallied from a break down early in the first set at 2-3, then fought off the 25-year-old American, who led 5-3 in the second set but could never overcome the World No. 8.

Instead, Djokovic fought back time and again. He held his own in both tie-breaks and prevailed for his 41st victory of the season. The loss closed the book on a breakthrough season for Fritz, who finished 45-21 and won titles at Indian Wells, Eastbourne and Tokyo.

Djokovic’s sixth lifetime win over Fritz lifted the 35-year-old Serbian into Sunday’s title final against either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev, who face off in the second semifinal match Saturday night. Djokovic, a five-time champion in the year-end finale, will play for a sixth trophy. If he wins, he would tie Roger Federer for most Nitto ATP Finals crowns.

Happy but relieved, Djokovic said in his post-match interview after defeating the eighth-seeded Fritz: “I had to fight to survive. I didn’t feel very reactive today or very comfortable. I knew coming into today’s match from yesterday’s gruelling battle against [Daniil] Medvedev I knew it would take me some time to adjust and find the dynamic movement I need against Fritz, who is one of the best servers on the Tour.”

Fritz finished with 31 overall winners, including 15 aces, but was broken both times he faced break points. Djokovic countered with 21 winners, made 19 unforced errors and outpointed Fritz 84-73.

“I had to be very patient, I didn’t start the second set very well,” Djokovic admitted. “But I managed to break his serve at 5-4 when he was serving for the set, like when [Daniil] Medvedev was serving for the match yesterday. In those moments I find another gear and managed to hold my nerve and make him play another shot in the tie-break.

“I am very pleased to have overcome this one as I don’t think it was one of my best days with my tennis, but I managed to hang in there.”

Regardless of whom Djokovic faces on Sunday, he will enter with a head-to-head advantage: 3-0 versus Ruud or 2-1 against Rublev. If he needs further incentive to succeed, Djokovic if he should win and lift the Nitto ATP Finals trophy – and it’s a very big one – would also earn the largest pay day in tennis history with $4,740,300 for going undefeated during the tournament.

Ram and Salisbury remain perfect in Turin

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury earned their 36th tour-level win of the season – and it was a memorable one that has lifted them into Sunday’s Nitto ATP Finals doubles title match for the second straight year.

On Saturday, the American-British duo beat World No. 1 and top-seeded Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 7-6 (7), 6-4, in an hour and 39 minutes to advance to the final. Ram and Salisbury, who went 3-0 in group play and are vying for their four ATP Tour title this season, started quickly and played their best when it counted the most. They combined to hit six aces and 27 winners overall from all angles of the court, and outpointed their opponents 67-63.

“We are very happy to be through,” Salisbury said in a post-match interview. He and Ram squandered five set points in the opener – including four from 6-2 in the first-set tie-break before winning it 9-7 – but didn’t let it hinder their performance or attitude against Koolhof and Skupski, who won seven titles this season – including three Masters 1000 crowns.

“I feel we are pretty good at handling whatever any situation we are in,” Salisbury added. “It was tough not closing it out more straightforward in the [first set] tie-break, but we fought hard and got it done eventually. We then stayed focused and played pretty smart and held onto our serve well. We are pretty happy with the performance.”

After losing last year’s championship match to France’s Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Ram and Salisbury will face Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, who beat Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 10-6. Sunday’s final will match two unbeaten teams for just the third time – and first since 1991 – in ATP Finals history.

Saturday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Saturday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

• Fourth-ranked Casper Ruud will pass Rafael Nadal and end the 2022 season as World No. 2 if he wins the Nitto ATP Finals title. The 23-year-old Norwegian is the first player to reach the Nitto ATP Finals semifinals in his first two appearances since Stan Wawrinka achieved the feat at London in 2013-14. Ruud is bidding to become the first Scandinavian finalist at the Nitto ATP Finals since Stefan Edberg of Sweden was the 1990 Frankfurt runner-up and 1989 New York champion.

• Doubles players Joe Salisbury, Lloyd Glasspool and Neal Skupski comprise the first British trio to reach the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals.

“Quotable …”

“I kept fighting. I kept just saying to myself, ‘It doesn’t matter how he’s playing, how good he’s playing, just fight for every ball.’ In the end I was able to start to play better and better. In the end I was able to turn around the match. I’m happy.”

– Andrey Rublev, asked during his Friday post-match press conference what he was most proud of from his 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the Nitto ATP Finals semifinal round.