Novak Djokovic booked his place in the last four of the ATP Tour Finals on Friday, defeating Alexander Zverev 6-3 7-6(4).
Reigning world No. 1 Djokovic will now face the in-form Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals, the winner of whom will meet either Rafael Nadal or Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final.
Djokovic is aiming to become the oldest winner of the tournament at the age of 33, a record currently held by Roger Federer. And after a poor display against Medvedev on Wednesday, the Serbian was far sharper 48 hours later.
That defeat to Medvedev was only Djokovic’s fourth of the year and was largely self-inflicted. 24 unforced errors and five double-faults earmarked an uncharacteristic performance.
It was a different story against Zverev, who failed to break his opponent all match.
Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev embrace
Image credit: Getty Images
Zverev did have his moments, not least midway through the first set when he edged a breathtaking rally that finished with an overhead volley that was far simpler than anything that had come before it.
Twice Zverev earned the right to break the Djokovic serve, but twice the famous defensive instincts of the world No. 1 held firm. Ultimately, that proved the difference as Djokovic took one of his two opportunities on the Zverev serve to close out the first set.
In truth, there wasn’t much to choose between both men in the opening set. The one key area proved to be the Zverev second serve, which Djokovic targeted – winning four of six points.
History suggested the first set would determine the winner of the match, with all five previous head-to-heads decided in straight sets. That proved the case once more.
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Zverev upped the ante on his serve, rattling down nine aces, and his general approach became more aggressive as he attempted to hit a flatter ball.
However, it was still Djokovic who came closer to a breakthrough in the second set, twice creating break chances without making one of them count. Both players looked increasingly comfortable on serve and so the match predictably headed for a second-set tiebreaker, with Zverev flying into a 2-0 lead. One particular backhand down-the-line winner suggested the match might be heading for a decider.
Djokovic has built his career on an unshakable mentality though, and once again the story of the match was his ability to win the important points. Zverev won 45 to Djoker’s 43 in the second set, but it was the Serbian who made the big points count.
The tiebreaker began to turn his way at 2-3, Djokovic twice delivering unreturnable serves. He then rode that momentum with a delicious cross-court backhand winner for 5-3. One more big serve and it was match point, a chance Djokovic didn’t waste.
Next up is Thiem in the semis, a man against whom Djokovic holds a 7-4 head-to-head advantage. However, Thiem has won two of the last three meetings, one of which came at the O2 last year.