Djokovic Makes History In Turin, Earns Record-Tying Sixth ATP Finals Title

Novak Djokovic (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 20, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Novak Djokovic achieved a major milestone in his remarkable career by winning the Nitto ATP Finals singles title for a record-tying sixth time Sunday evening in Turin, Italy.

The World No. 8 from Serbia also became the oldest Nitto ATP Finals singles champion in the 53-year history of the year-end tournament after defeating World No. 4 Casper Ruud of Norway, 7-5, 6-3, in an hour and 32 minutes. The 21-time major champion closed out the title triumph with his ninth ace and 31st winner overall – then let out a sigh of relief. Without hesitation, after he shook hands with Ruud, Djokovic walked over to his box and shared hugs with his wife and children as well as his coach Goran Ivanisevic and the rest of his team.

Winning the Turin title was a welcome reward for Djokovic, who maintaining his hope and dedication throughout a memorable if not always a remarkable year that saw him win four ATP Tour titles – at Rome, Wimbledon, Tel Aviv and Astana – all despite missing the Australian Open and US Open as well as several North American tournaments for his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In addition to tying Roger Federer for most ATP Finals titles, Djokovic, 35, shattered the age record of the Swiss superstar, who was 30 when he won the 2011 title in London, as the oldest Nitto ATP Finals champion.

In the final act of the 2022 ATP Tour season, Djokovic was crowned as undefeated champion before another sellout crowd that filled the Pala Alpitour, who cheered appreciatively for both players. Djokovic was compensated with a record-setting award of more than $4.7 million in prize money as well as 1,500 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points. He will finish the season ranked fifth.

“It is finals. Usually these kind of matches are decided by very small margins,” Djokovic said in a brief post-match interview on court before the trophy ceremony. “One break of serve was enough in both sets. I knew Casper was playing really well coming into this match. We both served really well and I think in some decisive moments, like the 12th game of the first set, I managed to put a few returns back in play.

“I made him run, made him play. I was really pleased with the way I played. I was looking to be very aggressive and it worked great. I am really pleased with the performance.”

Through the first 10 games of the opening set, Djokovic looked steady on the court if not on the sidelines, where TV cameras caught his hands trembling as he sat down during one of the changeovers. Also, there were glimpses of Djokovic slowly massaging his temples with a towel. He looked gassed.

Meanwhile, Ruud proved himself as a formidable foe as he saved a pair of break points under duress to hold for 1-all and another break point in the eighth game to level the set at 4-4. He dropped just a single point on his first serve in his first five service games. Then, a Hawkeye overrule set up set point. While Ruud thought he had garnered a service winner for 5-6, 40-30, Djokovic challenged the call – it was overruled – and he won the point by the slimmest of margins.

Djokovic showed his mettle and won the 52-minute opener 7-5 with a series of vintage inside-out forehands that eventually broke Ruud for the first time. The Norwegian sailed a backhand wide that ended a 19-shot rally on set point. It was Ruud’s 19th unforced error – and it proved costly. As the match wore on, it seemed, Djokovic became more durable. Suddenly, he gained a second wind.

In the second set, Djokovic struck gold first with a break of Ruud to go ahead 3-1. It seemed to energize him and he never waivered against the 23-year-old Ruud, who is still chasing after his first big title after finishing runner up at Roland Garros and the US Open this year. A title victory in Turin would have lifted Ruud past Rafael Nadal to World No. 2. Now, he will have to wait until next year when he has no points to defend at the Australian Open to get another chance.

Instead, Djokovic remained steady and focused in consolidating the break and in holding for 5-2 advantage over Ruud. A game later, Djokovic closed out his title victory that was sealed with a solid ace.

“I missed a couple of forehands in the last game when I was serving for it,” Djokovic admitted. “I had nerves, but I am really grateful to be able to serve the match out. I had a big ace to close out. Seven years [since winning this title] has been a long time. At the same time, the fact that I waited seven years makes this victory even sweeter and even bigger.”

In outpointing Ruud 64-48, Djokovic won 80 percent (44 of 55) of his service points, faced no break points, won 35 percent (20 of 57) of his returns and converted two of five break-point chances on Ruud’s serve. Ruud countered with 17 winners but made 31 unforced errors. It was not enough for the winner of three tour-level titles this season (Buenos Aires, Geneva, Gstaad) to overcome Djokovic.

“To my team, another year has passed on the ATP Tour,” the affable Ruud said in accepting his runner-up trophy. “Thank you to everyone who helps me and pushes me everyday, Without you it would not be possible. It has been a year of many highs, some really big highs. Of course, some lows. I look forward to the next season already.”

Ram and Salisbury win first ATP Finals doubles title with a flourish

With four of the top eight doubles players in the world on court in the Nitto ATP Finals title match Sunday afternoon in Turin, on one side of the net, Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury were looking to take care of unfinished business – namely winning the year-end title that slipped away from their grasp a year ago.

On the other side stood the righty-lefty Croatian combo Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, who lost to the American-British duo in the semifinals of the 2021 event and sought some revenge. Both teams brought unblemished 4-0 records into the title match at the Pala Alpitour, with 1,500 rankings points and a whopping $930,300 in prize money awaiting the undefeated champions.

As it happened, Ram and Salisbury played smart and focused tennis from first ball to last ball throughout the one-hour, 25-minute final and won 7-6 (4), 6-4, to capture their first Nitto ATP Finals doubles crown. They proved to be the best team this week, bringing the best out of each other. Winning the year-end finale provided them with the perfect coda to close out the year after winning the US Open title in September and a pair of ATP Masters 1000 crowns at Monte-Carlo and Cincinnati earlier this season.

“That’s probably up there with one of our best matches, one of our best matches as a team,” Salisbury said in an on-court interview before the trophy ceremony. “I think we’re so proud of everything we’ve done this week. We’ve come through some tough situations, but we’ve stuck together the whole way. [I’m] so happy, I can’t believe we’ve achieved this.”

While the No. 2 seeds Ram and Salisbury lost to French team Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert in last year’s final, they found a renewed sense of purpose and arrived at the final full of confidence, especially after eliminating the World No. 1 and top-seeded team of Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski 7-6 (7), 6-4 in Saturday’s semifinal round.

Meanwhile, despite coming up short, the fourth-seeded Mektic and Pavic enjoyed a highly-successful season, winning five titles including at Rome after capturing an Olympic gold medal last year. Mektic had been part of the 2020 champion team with Koolhof.

In the first meeting of two undefeated teams in the ATP Finals doubles title match for the first time since 1991, when the Aussie-Swedish team of John Fitzgerald and Anders Jarryd (4-0) defeated Americans Ken Flach and Robert Seguso (4-0) in a battle of unbeatens, the margins were razor thin. After holding steady and winning the 46-minute first set in a tie-break 7-4, Ram and Salisbury broke their opponents in the opening game of the second set – and it provided enough of a cushion as they held serve five straight times to win the title without facing any break points. It was their third career victory in seven tries against Mektic and Pavic.

“I don’t know what to say,” Ram said in an on-court interview. “My partner played out of this world today, but I guess that’s what you’ve got to do and that’s why he’s one of the best around. He saves his best for the biggest moments. I’m so proud of us a team for sure.”

Ram and Salisbury combined to hit 13 aces and 29 winners, including on match point. They won 91 percent (40 of 44) of their first-serve points, benefited from 31 unforced errors by the Croatians and outpointed them 69-56.

While Salisbury is the first British player to win the Nitto ATP Finals doubles title, Ram became the 18thAmerican. He joins a celebrated roster of players that includes Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, and Bob and Mike Bryan.

“It’s certainly pretty cool,” Ram admitted. “There’s been so many great American doubles players and so many great players that have won this. It’s an honor to be on that trophy with them for sure.”

By the numbers

• On Sunday, Novak Djokovic made his sixth Nitto ATP Finals appearance and third in the final since winning his fifth and most recent year-end championship at 2015 London. He won his first at 2008 Shanghai and bids to become the third player to capture the title in at least three different cities, joining Roger Federer (3 cities) and Ilie Nastase (4 cities).

Joe Salisbury is the first Briton to win the Nitto ATP Finals doubles title, while Rajeev Ram is the 18th American to clinch the crown.

• History was made Sunday at the Nitto ATP Finals. In the 53-year history of the year-end event, Aurélie Tourte of France became the first woman to be chair umpire for the singles final.

“Quotable …”

“I think when the draw was made here, I guess I was the least favorite to reach the final; I think I can say for sure, compared to all the other great players who I consider are maybe better hard-court indoor players than myself. There are small margins in this sport. I’ve been able to come through, fight through, be in the final, so I’m very happy about it.”

– World No. 4 Casper Ruud, during his post-match press conference following his semifinal win over Andrey Rublev in looking ahead to Sunday’s title match against Novak Djokovic.