Djokovic Plays At His Best, Now He’s Into Turin Final

Novak Djokovic (photo: Giampiero Sposito/FITP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 19, 2023 (By Michael Dickens)

In a battle of World No. 1 versus World No. 2 in the Nitto ATP Finals semifinals, it’s never a bad idea to bet on No. 1. After all, coming into Saturday evening’s blockbuster between current World No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia and No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, the No. 1 player had won four of the five battles.

Now, make it five of six after Djokovic prevailed 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 28 minutes at the Pala Alpitour in Turin. He taught a masterclass and Alcaraz was his pupil.

“It was the best match of the tournament for me without doubt. It came at the right time really,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview, after qualifying for his ninth title match in Nitto ATP Finals history.

By winning, Djokovic set up a rematch against World No. 4 Jannik Sinner of Italy in Sunday’s title match. He also remains alive in his quest to win a record seventh Nitto ATP Finals crown. Sinner beat Djokovic, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), in group play in three hours and nine minutes last Tuesday en route to compiling an undefeated week in Turin.

In their fifth career meeting – and fourth this year, after Djokovic won their Roland Garros semifinal in June, Alcaraz prevailed in the Wimbledon final in five sets in July, and Djokovic rallied to win 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) in the Cincinnati title match, saving a match point during their epic 3:49 battle – there were enough dramatic moments to please both serious and casual tennis fans despite the two foes playing one of their shorter matches.

“After spending a lot of time on the court in the first three matches, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel tonight,” Djokovic said. He went 2-1 in group play. “This year I wasn’t maybe as sharp in the second and third group matches, particularly, but I think tonight from the very beginning I felt the ball well.”

Djokovic offered Alcaraz very few opportunities to attack and he was not broken in four tries — twice in each set. Instead, it was the Serbian who was the aggressor, breaking the spirit and serve of the 20-year-old Spaniard three times in eight opportunities. He hit 12 winners to eight unforced errors, while Alcaraz committed 22 unforced errors, which equaled his 22 winners. Djokovic closed on a high note when he hit an overhead smash winner on his first match-point opportunity to put a lid on one final nine-shot rally.

A statistic that spoke volumes could be found in the percentage of second serve points won: Djokovic won 56 percent while Alcaraz was successful only 34 percent of the time. By the conclusion, Djokovic outpointed Alcaraz 64-47.

“I approached the match with the right attitude, the right mentality, and I knew from the very first point it was going to be high intensity,” Djokovic said. “He had break points right away, 15-40 in the first game. That’s Carlos. He always brings out his best in these kinds of matches and starts with a lot of high quality tennis and intensity. You’ve got to match that, try to weather the storm, and I did that.

“I served well in important moments and the match shifted when it was 4-3 and I broke with new balls. He missed a couple of backhands, and it gave me the break. From that moment I really played flawless tennis.”

Djokovic, 36, who was appearing in his 12th Nitto ATP Finals semifinal (9-3), has now advanced to his ninth final (6-2), which ties him with Ivan Lendl for second-most in tournament history behind Roger Federer‘s 10 appearances. Now, he will be tasked with trying to avenge a group defeat in the championship match against Sinner. He has accomplished the feat once, back in 2015, when he recovered from a group loss to Federer and went on to win the 2015 title.

Looking ahead to his rematch with Sinner, Djokovic spoke positively about the 22-year-old Italian star. “He’s been playing fantastic tennis, arguably the best tennis of his life,” he said. “On this stage, against Top 10 players. We played, 7-6 in the third, a very close match the other night. The atmosphere was unbelievable, electric really. I don’t expect anything less than that, probably even louder than what we had in the group-stage matchup.

“It’s the final, I’ve been in this situation before many times. I’m really happy with the way I’m feeling, the way I’m playing, so hopefully I can deliver my A game tomorrow.”

Defending champs Ram and Salisbury return to title match

Defending Nitto ATP Finals champions Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain have won three match tie-breaks during their title defense run this week in Turin. Their third, which happened Saturday evening, lifted them past Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France and into Sunday’s title match. Ram and Salisbury showed why they have been clutch in clutch moments all week.

The sixth-seeded American/British duo beat the No. 4 Mexican/French team, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 10-7, in an hour and 47 minutes. On Sunday, they will face No. 5 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, who can garner the Year-End No. 1 by winning the title.

Ram and Salisbury have now won nine straight matches in Turin going back to the start of their 2022 title run. They lead their career head-to-head against Granollers and Zeballos 5-3.

Salisbury called his team’s title run “amazing.” He added: “I can’t quite believe it. We have had some really tough matches this week. We have not always played our best but we managed to come through and it feels that there is something special playing here. It is amazing to play in another final here tomorrow.”

This season, Ram and Salisbury won their third straight US Open crown and also added titles in Lyon and Vienna. Meanwhile, Gonzalez and Roger-Vasselin, who were making their Turin debut, won five Tour titles, including ATP Masters 1000 crowns in Miami and Paris.

“It took us sticking together and believing that got us through in the end,” Ram admitted, during his team’s on-court interview. “The tennis is so marginal. Those guys have had a great year and great recent form.”

By the numbers

On Sunday, Novak Djokovic will be attempt to become the third player in six years at the Nitto ATP Finals to avenge a group defeat by winning the championship match. Twice, Alexander Zverev reversed group losses to Daniil Medvedev (in 2021) and Djokovic (in 2018) to win the title match. Djokovic has accomplished the feat once. He recovered from a group loss to Roger Federer to win the 2015 title.

“Quotable …”

“Well, I’m careful about everything when I play against the No. 1 or the No. 2 in the world. Tough match for sure is coming up. Not so much time to enjoy this moment because tomorrow is going to be a really tough match. But I’m looking forward to it, no?

“It’s huge privilege to be here in the final. I feel privileged to play against Novak or against Carlos. It’s going to be a tough match. I’m looking forward to it. Trying to give all what I have, 100%, and hopefully it’s going to be a good matchup.”

Jannik Sinner of Italy during his post-match interview Saturday after defeating Daniil Medvedev, asked what to look forward to being in the Nitto ATP Finals.