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Every time Novak Djokovic needed a point, he had the shot to win it in ATP Finals victory over Taylor Fritz
The Serbian found a way to make it to the finish line first—by a nose—in each set during Saturday's 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) success.
Published Nov 19, 2022
“Clinical” is a word that’s often used to describe how Novak Djokovic goes about his business on court. The 21-time Grand Slam champion wins with clean hitting, precision placement, and ruthless efficiency.
Often this is true. Four of Djokovic’s victories in Australian Open finals, for example, have come in all-business straight-setters. But as he proved again in his 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) win over Taylor Fritz in the semifinals Turin on Saturday, not everything Djokovic does is quite so orderly. The symmetrical scoreline concealed a much more tumultuous, and much less straightforward, two-hour process.
In the first set, Djokovic broke at 2-2, then gave the break back right away with a loose backhand. An hour later, after winning first-set tiebreaker, he seemed to signal to his team that he was dizzy. When he reached the sideline, he put his head down on the top of his bench to steady himself.
In the second set, Djokovic was broken in the opening game, and teetered on serve again at 2-4 and 3-5. He finally leveled at 5-5, but only after Fritz was distracted by a fan who yelled right before he was about to hit a putaway backhand. And when Djokovic earned his first match point, at 6-5 in the second-set tiebreaker, he nervously sent a backhand long.
Despite those signs of vulnerability; despite having played three long sets against Daniil Medvedev less than 24 hours earlier; despite the back-and-forth nature of this match, Djokovic found a way to make it to the finish line first, by a nose, in each set.
“I knew that coming into the match that I will not be the freshest,” Djokovic said. “That I will have to find a way differently to adjust my game, to the lack of reactivity on the court today.”
“Tennis-wise I was not hitting the ball cleanly as I have throughout the week. That’s also due to the heavier legs.”
Among the many ups and downs and winners and errors on this afternoon, two moments stood out as difference-makers, and as examples of Djokovic at his brawling best. Not surprisingly, they both came in the tiebreakers.
(1) Down 4-5 in the first-set tiebreaker, and having missed several routine forehands, Djokovic suddenly began hitting them perfectly again. He even the score at 5-5 with a first serve and a forehand winner; made it 6-5 with a forehand crosscourt/down the line combination; and closed the set with a go-for-broke forehand winner into the corner.
(2) Down 3-4 in the second-set tiebreaker, Djokovic hit a service winner out wide in the ad court. At 4-4, he came up with a shot he probably hadn’t hit all week, a short-hop backhand when he was right on top of the net. Finally, at 5-5, seconds after Fritz had won an explosively brilliant rally with a crowd-rousing smash, Djokovic came right back with an excellent return, then hit a backhand volley to reach match point.
Every time Djokovic needed a point, he had the shot to win it.
“I think that these kind of wins value double because you’re not feeling great maybe on the court game-wise, but you still manage to win against a great player, two tiebreakers,” he said.
As for Fritz, he was still fuming about the crowd noise at 5-4 in the second set.
“It’s normal that the crowd maybe makes a noise when there’s a crazy point going on,” he said. “You expect it, you’re ready for it. But someone just, like, flat-out screaming to purposely try to throw you off, it’s not something you’re ever used to. When it happens, it’s an absolute shock.”
“It’s disgusting then.”
I think that these kind of wins value double because you’re not feeling great maybe on the court game-wise, but you still manage to win against a great player, two tiebreakers. —Novak Djokovic
After a few minutes, Fritz was able to find some perspective on a season that saw him win his first Masters 1000, beat Rafael Nadal twice, make the Top 10 for the first time, and reach the semis in his ATP Finals debut.
“I absolutely feel like I belong,” Fritz said. “I think that I’ve proved that I belong in the Top 10 and I belong here. I just need to keep working hard.”
“I was dealing with injuries, and I still was able to produce a really solid year.”
But it’s Djokovic whose year continues in Turin. He’ll play his eighth season-ending final on Sunday. In his first, in 2008, he beat Nikolay Davydenko. Fourteen years later, he’ll face either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev, two guys who are nearly two decades younger than Davydenko.
“I would love to, of course, win the trophy, but I’m not going to be the only player who is going to want that on the court,” Djokovic said.
“Hopefully I'll be able to play at the level that I’ve played most of the matches this week and get a trophy.”
It may not be clinical, but would you bet against Djokovic finding a away around another, younger opponent on Sunday?