Djokovic has world number one Nadal in his sights at London finale

Djokovic has world number one Nadal in his sights at London finale Djokovic has world number one Nadal in his sights at London finale

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – If Novak Djokovic is to claim the year-end number ranking for a record-equaling sixth time he will have to do it the hard way at the ATP Finals next week in London.

The Serb was knocked off top spot by Rafael Nadal on Monday despite winning the Paris Masters last week and will need a strong finish alongside the River Thames to snatch it back.

Only Pete Sampras has finished a year on top six times and Djokovic’s hopes of emulating the American are not in his own hands with Nadal leading by 640 points heading to the climax.

Nadal, 33, is bidding to become the ATP’s oldest year-end number but with 200 points awarded for round-robin wins, 400 for a semi-final win and 500 for winning the final the door is still ajar for Djokovic to deny him.

Spaniard Nadal has often struggled physically in London and pulled out of his Paris Masters semi-final against Denis Shapovalov last week citing an abdominal issue when victory would have put him virtually out of reach.

He intends to play in London having been drawn in a round-robin group alongside 2018 ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev and debutants Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

If Nadal fails to win a round-robin match, Djokovic would still need to win two group matches and reach the final to dislodge him. Djokovic will also finish the year as number one by winning the title, providing Nadal does not reach the semis.

Djokovic faces a tough group though, with six-time champion Roger Federer, French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem and Italian Matteo Berrettini, the third newcomer in this year’s event, who he will play in Sunday’s opening singles.

“It’s an extremely difficult task considering who my opponents are going to be,” Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Djokovic said.

“As a consequence, if I manage to get the year-end number one, that would be fantastic. It is a motivation and a goal every day.”

Federer, ranked third, will be a particularly dangerous obstacle for Djokovic even if he has not added to his ATP Finals title haul since winning in 2011.

The Swiss, who has a record 57 match wins at the event, bowed out to Zverev in the semi-finals last year but continues to defy the passing years at the age of 38.

Last month he claimed the Swiss indoor title without dropping a set. It was his fourth title in 2019, during which he lost an epic Wimbledon final to Djokovic having held match points.

The penultimate ATP Finals in London, before it moves to Turin, has a fresh look this year.

Russian counter-puncher Medvedev has enjoyed an incredible breakthrough year and of the three debutants he looks the most likely to challenge for the title.

He leads the charts in terms of match wins (59) and finals reached (9) and against Nadal in a sensational U.S. Open final proved he has the personality to go toe-to-toe with the giants.

For the fourth successive year there are eight different nations represented in the singles while half of the singles field are aged 23 or under. The new wave is arriving, but Djokovic still has unfinished business.

Colombian duo Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah will lead the doubles event having already clinched the year-end number one ranking and will be seeking a London double after winning this year’s Wimbledon crown.

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Tennis: Rock-solid Djokovic dismantles Zverev at ATP Finals

© Reuters. Tennis - ATP Finals © Reuters. Tennis – ATP Finals

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic has 834 Tour match wins in his storied career and the latest, a 6-4 6-1 rout of young German Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals on Wednesday, will not be one for his scrapbook.

Yet despite him not feeling 100 percent, it illustrated just how the Serb has become one of the all-time greats, mastering the ability to churn out victories in third gear.

Zverev provided some fierce resistance in the opening set of their round-robin match, but as he so often does Djokovic played the percentages.

Djokovic, who will end the year as world number one for the fifth time, struck only three winners in the opening set but relied on his rock-solid ‘middle game’ to take the opener.

A demoralized Zverev then fell apart, losing the last five games of a match that petered out into another one-sided affair — the pattern so far at the O2 Arena this year where the opening seven matches have not provided a single three-setter.

"I guess winning the first set really counts this year. Then, I guess, you have mentally quite an edge," Djokovic said.

Djokovic has now won 33 of his last 35 matches and looks unstoppable as he seeks a sixth ATP Finals title.

With two easy wins so far in the Gustavo Kuerten group, he will advance into the last four of the season-ending tournament for the eighth time if American John Isner beats Marin Cilic in the battle of the big servers later. The top seed will also reach the semis if Cilic beats Isner in three sets.

"It wasn’t a great quality tennis match, to be honest, at least from the court," Djokovic, who was coughing occasionally and grabbing a tissue from his pocket, told reporters.

"Somehow I managed to gather the strength when I needed it. I think also it seemed like Sascha was not feeling really great, definitely not playing well, especially from the back of the court. He made a lot of errors."

For a while at the start of the match it seemed ticket holders might be in for a treat.

Zverev, who has a Tour-leading 55 match wins this year, went toe-to-toe with Djokovic from the baseline and looked to have the baseline firepower to worry his opponent, striking 15 winners in the opening set.

Djokovic netted a routine forehand when serving at 4-4 30-30, offering Zverev a break point that he did not convert.

Djokovic then double-faulted to give Zverev another chance to serve for the set but this time the German went just wide with an attempted lob after the Serb ventured into the net.

The next game always looked dangerous for Zverev and so it proved as he double-faulted to concede the set.

Zverev looked deflated and despite holding serve for 1-1 he offered no more resistance as Djokovic won five games in a row.

It is not all over for Zverev who can still reach the semi-finals for the first time if he beats Isner on Friday.

"I think I’ll take it as a normal quarter-final match at a normal tournament," said the German, who beat Cilic in his opening match on Monday.

"To be in the semi-finals here would mean a lot to me. For that, I have to play good tennis."

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