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You’ve probably heard that tennis is (a) a game of inches, and (b) highly mental. By now, most of us don’t need to be convinced of the truth behind these clichés. But in case you did, Novak Djokovic and Hubert Hurkacz gave us fresh evidence on the most important point of their semifinal in Bercy on Saturday.

The point came at 5-5 in the deciding tiebreaker. After two-plus hours and three sets, the Serb and the Pole stood all-even. Djokovic had reached match point at 5-4 in the third set, but lost it when his backhand pass floated wide. Hurkacz had led 4-3 in the tiebreaker, but squandered that lead by nervously, and uncharacteristically, putting a backhand into the net. The anxiety level had passed from one side of the court to the other all afternoon. Djokovic knew that a win would clinch him his seventh year-end No. 1 ATP ranking, a men’s record. Hurkacz knew that a win over Djokovic on such a big stage would rank among his most memorable victories.

Now, at 5-5, both of them were tight. Hurkacz served, and Djokovic hit an underpowered forehand that crawled over the net and landed short. Normally, that would have been red meat for Hurkacz; instead, with a chance to reach match point, he came up a step short and drilled the ball into the tape. Djokovic hadn’t hit the best forehand of his career, but he was the one leading 6-5. Given a second crack at victory, he survived one more rally, and a Hurkacz volley that was wide by an inch, to seal a 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (5) win.

“Really, it went down to the last shot,” Djokovic told Tennis Channel. “It was real drama in the end, it just went wide. I was lucky in the end, and very pleased to get through that one.”

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Djokovic was originally up 4-1 in the third set against Hurkacz, but eventually found himself locked at 5-all in a third set tie-break.

Djokovic was originally up 4-1 in the third set against Hurkacz, but eventually found himself locked at 5-all in a third set tie-break.

The last time Djokovic felt this kind of pressure—much more, in fact—was in the US Open final against Daniil Medvedev, and we know how that ended. Djokovic looked edgy again today as he rushed through points in the first set. But as he has so many other times in 2021, Djokovic settled down and dialed in once the second set began. He played with purpose and aggression, and won 10 of the next 11 games.

“I just got the rhythm going and everything was going my way,” Djokovic said. “Then I had a pretty sloppy service game at 4-2 for me, got him back in play.”

Bending but never breaking. Ending up on top after long, back-and-forth brawls. These have always been the Djokovic ways, and it’s fitting that he would clinch another year-end No. 1 ranking at 34 in the same fashion. Sampras set his record in 1998, and at the time, when the Big 3 were still in the juniors, it looked borderline-unbreakable. But tying and breaking borderline-unbreakable records is another Djokovic specialty: Just ask Roger Federer, whose stratospheric 20 major titles and 310 weeks at No. 1 still weren’t enough to hold off his younger rival. Major titles are a measure of how well you’ve played when it matters most; weeks and years at No. 1 are a measure of how well you’ve played from one week to the next. Djokovic is second to none in both categories among male players.

“It means the world to me,” said Djokovic, who needed only 12 tournaments to finish at the top for the third time in four years. “I know the work and the care that went into it.”

Djokovic has achieved his goal, but his season isn’t over. On Sunday he’ll face Medvedev, which means he’ll have a chance to avenge the only loss that likely mattered to him this year.