Novak Djokovic, the world No1, came into his semi-final at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin on a fine run of form.
A 51-6 record in 2021, and with five titles, three of them Majors, said it all. He then reached the US Open final, won the Paris Masters, and followed it all in Turin with three straight-sets wins.
But it would be not Djokovic who reached the final as he pursued one more record at the tournament. It would be the two players sitting at Nos 2 and 3, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, who between them had denied Djokovic the Grand Slam at the US Open and the chance of the Golden Slam in the Olympics, who again denied him.
But then these two had also garnered considerable match-wins and ranking points in 2021.
As well as winning his first Major title in New York, the defending champion Medvedev won the Toronto Masters plus Mallorca and Marseille, and was runner-up to Djokovic at both the Australian Open and Paris Masters.
Zverev, who was ATP Finals champion in 2018, won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, beating Djokovic in the semis, which was one of five titles for the year: Vienna, Cincinnati Masters, Madrid Masters, and Acapulco.
That added up to a tour-leading 58 match-wins each. And they came into this final with 12 hard-court titles and six indoor titles apiece: Nothing to choose, it seemed. Except…
While Medvedev had the smallest of margins in their head-to-head, 6-5, he had won their last five matches. And among those five wins, though little more than 12 months, was a win at this tournament last year and, more particularly, a round-robin win against Zverev just days ago in perhaps the match of the tournament.
It took over two and a half hours and three compelling sets to split them, and that in final-set tie-break.
So the recent stats were on the side of the Russian, but only just, if that recent match was anything to go by.
And it was Zverev, despite his after-midnight finish at the tournament on Saturday night, who made the first move, three break points in the third game, and a net-cord winner on the second delivered the break. He consolidated with a love hold, 3-1.
Indeed Medvedev looked the more sluggish of the two, perhaps with the weight of three three-setters in the round-robin phase in his legs. And he faced another break point in the fifth game after a Zverev ball landed just a couple of millimeters on the baseline.
The big Medvedev serve was also not earning the free points he has been used to, no aces, and only 11/16 first serves winning points. Meanwhile, the variety, pace and angles of the Zverev serve that had kept Djokovic on the back foot continued to win big. The German served out the set, 6-4, with 16/18 first-serve points won.
It had been plain sailing, tactically astute, and confidently played by Zverev, and that continued into the second set, with a poor opening game from Medvedev to concede the break. His focus, forehand, and serve were all over the place, and he did not hit his second winner of the match until he held at 1-2.
Medvedev’s first glimmer of a chance was deuce in the sixth game, but Zverev’s attacking game—his big, accurate serve backed by an aggressive follow-up—was enough to quash the danger: 4-2.
And it never looked any closer: Zverev kept up the dominance, with great serving that stopped his opponent from getting into many rallies. And even when he did, the German’s all-court confidence, and notably his forehand, were outstanding, such that Medvedev never worked a break point. It was done and dusted in an hour and a quarter, 6-4.
To give some wider context to this second ATP Finals victory, Zverev became just the fourth player in the tournament’s history to earn semi-final and final wins over the top two players in the rankings. And with this kind of tennis and self-belief, perhaps he will at last add a Major title to a resume bursting with Masters—and Olympic—success.
After all, he pressed Djokovic to the limit in the semis of this year’s US Open, pushed Stefanos Tsitsipas to the limit in the French Open semis, and was within touching distance of the US Open title last year against Dominic Thiem.
For now, he paid tribute to what is shaping up to be the rivalry of 2022 against Medvedev. As he said to the Russian on court, “Hopefully a lot more finals to come.”
“It is special, and I am super thrilled and happy right now. There is no better way to end the season than winning here. I am incredibly happy and I am already looking forward to next year.”
Mahut and Herbert deny Salisbury and Ram to take doubles title
The day after Joe Salisbury became the first Briton to reach the doubles final of the ATP Finals, he and American partner Rajeev Ram took on the sparkling French duo of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
The French team were former Nos1 and 2 in the doubles rankings, had won the career doubles Grand Slam, and were former champions in this tournament. And having lost to Salisbury/Ram in the round robins, they turned on the style to sweep to victory and claim their 20th team title, 6-4, 7-6(0).
Salisbury and Ram count two Majors titles together, plus the Australian Open final this year, but the season-ending finale remains elusive after reaching the semis last year. However, they end the year as the second-ranked pairing in doubles.
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