Novak Djokovic qualified for the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals with his 50th match win of the year on Wednesday afternoon. The World No. 1, chasing a record-equalling sixth trophy at the season finale, won Green Group play at the Pala Alpitour in Turin with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over fifth seed Andrey Rublev.
With Daniil Medvedev winning the Red Group on Tuesday, a possible World No. 1 versus No. 2 final is on the cards come 21 November.
Through to his 10th semi-final at the Nitto ATP Finals (40-16 match record), the seven-time year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, will look to carry his momentum into Friday’s round-robin match against British alternate Cameron Norrie, who has replaced Stefanos Tsitsipas (right elbow) in the elite field.
Looking ahead to Friday’s match against Norrie, Djokovic said, “I always like playing new players, particularly in one of the greatest tournaments in the world here in Turin. Cameron deserves to be here, it’s not lucky. He worked his way to Turin with great wins in Indian Wells and some other tournaments, so it will be fun to watch him tonight against Ruud and I’ll get ready for my next match.”
Djokovic, who has won his past six matches, was ruthlessly efficient and never let Rublev get to grips with his serve, winning 34 of 48 deliveries in their first ATP Head2Head meeting. The match lasted 68 minutes.
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Rublev was unable to capitalise on an early service break and by the fifth game Djokovic had settled, getting out of trouble with a trademark blow, an inch-perfect backhand winner down the line. It was very much first-strike tennis and through six games, only one point had gone over nine strokes.
Djokovic largely directed play away from Rublev’s forehand, the Russian’s biggest weapon, and reaped the reward when the World No. 1 drew Rublev to the net and broke for a 5-3 advantage with a backhand crosscourt winner. After his first-game wobble, Djokovic served with greater confidence and closed out the 36-minute opener with an ace, having won 88 per cent of his first-service points in the set.
“I knew that I had to be on my toes and start well,” said Djokovic. “I dropped my serve again like in the first match [against Casper Ruud]. It was quite a nervous start from both of us until 4-3, then with new balls I somehow managed to find the right shots at the right time. I made him play, crucially on the break point at 4-3, when I managed to strike a good passing shot. Winning the first set I put additional pressure on him, and I started to maybe play more consistently from the back of the court. I served well [and] that helped tremendously. I wanted to put him out of his comfort zone, taking away the time and mix up the pace. It was a great performance overall.”
Rublev, who’d played a World No. 1 on two previous occasions (Andy Murray at the 2017 Australian Open and Rafael Nadal at the 2017 US Open), appeared to rush in his attempt to close out points quickly against one of the all-time great defenders. Djokovic soon made a breakthrough in the second set, and it was his athleticism and ability to chase down every ball, that put Rublev under extreme pressure at 1-1. The Serbian star broke serve again at 4-2 and didn’t look back as he completed his 40th match win at the Nitto ATP Finals with his 14th ace.
The World No. 1 is now 50-6 on the season, having gone 27-1 in major championship play with title runs at the Australian Open (d. Medvedev), Roland Garros (d. Tsitsipas) and Wimbledon (d. Berrettini). The 34-year-old, who came within one match of the Grand Slam with a US Open final run (l. to Medvedev), has also won titles at the Serbia Open in Belgrade (d. Molcan) in May and also at the Rolex Paris Masters (d. Medvedev) two weeks ago.
Rublev, who won his first Green Group match on Monday against Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4, had also been attempting to earn his 50th match win of 2021 (now 49-21). He will play Ruud on Friday.