Novak Djokovic defeats Zverev to reach ATP finals last four
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Novak Djokovic’s 2021 season has come to an end in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals. 2018 champion Alexander Zverev got the better of the world No 1 in a tight three-set tussle, needing two hours and 28 minutes to secure a 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3 victory over the 20-time Grand Slam champion. The world No 3 will face defending champion Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s (November 21) final, after the Russian defeated debutant Casper Ruud in the first semi-final.
Djokovic and Zverev were meeting for the fifth time this season, with all of their matches this year coming at big hard-court tournaments.
The world No 1 got the better of the German at the ATP Cup and Australian Open at the beginning of the year, but it was Zverev who denied the Serb a chance to compete for the gold medal at the Olympics this summer, coming from a set down to win 1-6 6-3 6-1.
Djokovic got his revenge at the US Open just weeks later, defeating the 24-year-old in a tough five-set battle in the semi-finals to keep his hopes of the Calendar Grand Slam alive, before he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the final.
As the undefeated winner of the Green Group, Djokovic had already qualified for the semi-final of the ATP Finals with his victory over Andrey Rublev on Wednesday (November 17), while Zverev needed to defeat Hubert Hurkacz in his final Red Group match on Thursday (November 18) to come second in his group.
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The pair were neck-and-neck for most of the first set, as only threat to their respective service games were a few holds to 30.
It wasn’t until the world No 3 was serving at 4-5 that Djokovic stepped it up and secured himself a break point that would have also seen him win the set, but the 6’6 German managed to hold on and got himself out of trouble with his big hitting, holding on for 5-5.
It was the top seed’s turn to fend off break points in the very next game, as he came back from 15-40 down to make it 6-5 and guarantee himself at least a tiebreak, but Zverev was able to force a breaker and take the opening set 7-6(4) after exactly an hour.
The five-time ATP Finals champion started the second set looking slightly flat following his opening set loss as Zverev looked dominant from the baseline but Djokovic managed to remain level throughout the set and got his fire back at 4-4, finally securing the first break of serve in the semi-final to give himself the chance to serve out the second, and he fended the German off to seal it with an ace on his fifth set point and force a decider.
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The Serb was the first to be broken at 1-2 in the third, firing three errors to give Zverev break points and sending a shot long to gift his opponent the game, before he could be seen shouting at his team from the baseline.
Djokovic forced his own break point while 2-4 down, but the 2018 champion rallied to hold on and bring himself within one game of a place in the final, and served out a tight 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3 victory after two hours and 28 minutes.
It means Djokovic’s stellar 2021 season comes to an end.
The Serb won three of the four Majors this year and was runner-up at the US Open.
He also broke Roger Federer’s record for most weeks at world No 1 early in the season, and recently surpassed the record he previously shared with Pete Sampras for most finishes at year-end No 1, securing the season-end top spot in the rankings for a seventh time during the Paris Masters.
Paris-Bercy was also the site of another record for the 34-year-old this year, as he became the first man in history to win a 37th Masters 1000 title, having previously shared the record of 36 with Nadal.
One record Djokovic won’t be able to match this year is one for the most ATP Finals titles – the Serb has won the season-ending championships five times compared to Federer’s record of six, but his previous victory came all the way back in 2015.
Although his year on the ATP Tour has come to an end, Djokovic will be representing Team Serbia at next week’s Davis Cup Finals before beginning his off-season prep, as he eyes a record 21st Grand Slam title in 2022.
Meanwhile, Zverev will take on Medvedev in the final match of the 2021 season – a rematch of their tight three-set encounter in the round-robin stage earlier in the week.
The defending champion narrowly won the two hour and 36 minute battle 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(6) on Tuesday (November 16), and will be happy to get some extra rest ahead of the final, having defeated Ruud in just an hour and 19 minutes during the daytime semi-final, while Zverev was on court until almost midnight local time.
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