Novak Djokovic advanced to the championship match on Saturday at the Astana Open after Daniil Medvedev retired from the pair’s semi-final clash at the end of a dramatic second-set tie-break due to a leg injury.
Medvedev’s retirement came moments after Djokovic had clinched a dramatic tie-break to level the match at 4-6, 7-6(6). It was an unfortunate end to what was shaping up to be one of the matches of the year on the ATP Tour, with both players bringing a high level to their 11th ATP Head2Head meeting.
“I really hope that his injury is nothing too serious,” said Djokovic. “I know Daniil, he’s a great guy, he’s a fighter, he’s a big competitor. He wouldn’t retire a match if he didn’t feel that he [could] continue or [if it wouldn’t] worsen his injury. He told me that he pulled an adductor muscle in his leg.
“It was such a close match, particularly in the second set. I would probably say he was a better player on the court in both sets. I was fighting and trying to find a way. I found a way to win the second, but I’m just sad for the tournament and for these people who were enjoying the battle, and for Daniil that it had to end this way.”
Djokovic will now aim to seal back-to-back titles in Sunday’s final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 winner against Andrey Rublev. The Serbian, who lifted his 89th tour-level crown in Tel Aviv last week, leads Tsitsipas 7-2 in their ATP Head2Head series.
“It’s the second time in my life I retired like this with a pulled muscle,” Medvedev explained. “So here, on the second point of the tie-break, I felt a little bit strange pop in my adductor. I first thought maybe it’s a cramp and after the point I was like, `No, probably not a cramp.’And during the tie-break, I felt I can play like five, 10 more points but that’s it. If I play one more set, you can do it, but you can probably miss half a year instead of one month.”
Incredibly, this was Djokovic and Medvedev’s first meeting of 2022 – and only the second event where they were in the same draw, after Roland Garros. It was also Djokovic’s first match against a Top 10 player on a hard court since the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals, where he fell to Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals. Medvedev, meanwhile, was seeking his first indoor hard-court final since that same event.
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The battle between the second and fourth seeds was a master class in geometry, as the two players artfully carved a dizzying array of intricate, intuitive shots.
There were, improbably, three consecutive breaks of serve in the first set, two of them belonging to Medvedev, who converted his only two break opportunities. Serving at 5-4 he raced out to 40/0 and took the set on his second opportunity.
There were no breaks of serve in the second set and so it came down to a tie-break. Medvedev won the first point, then Djokovic employed the drop shot on four consecutive points – and won them all. Ultimately, he won the tie-break on yet another drop shot when Medvedev’s forehand lob sailed long.
“We played a lot of drop shots once the balls got really big and fluffy and I couldn’t really penetrate through him,” Djokovic said. “He’s like a wall. I’ve been in those shoes myself throughout my career, that players thought they couldn’t put a ball past me, but now I [know] how it feels when someone who really doesn’t make mistakes is on the opposite side of the net. He just makes you work really hard for every single point.
“The conditions here are playing a bit slower, actually a lot slower than last week in Israel where I played, so I had to adjust and against a player like Daniil, you’re just not going to have many free points. Actually, maybe none. So you just have to work your way all the time.
“The tie-break was super exciting and the house was on fire here in the stadium.”
Did You Know?
By winning Wimbledon in July, Djokovic is guaranteed to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals as a current-year Grand Slam champion who finishes within the Top 20 of the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin should he win the Astana Open. Victory at the ATP 500 would give Djokovic enough points to guarantee that he will be in the Top 20 of the Race on the Monday after the Rolex Paris Masters.