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Novak Djokovic sweeps past Matteo Berrettini in the Group Bjorn Borg opener on Sunday.

Djokovic Fires Warning With Berrettini Win

Serbian prevails on opening day in London

Novak Djokovic started his quest for a record-equalling sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown on Sunday, firing a warning shot to his rivals when he beat Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini 6-2, 6-1 over 64 minutes in the Group Bjorn Borg opener.

“Throughout my career, I always intended and always tried to perfect my game and in the midst of a battle and heat of the moment, sometimes you just get frustrated with certain things regardless of the results,” said Djokovic. “Sometimes I really don't mind the results as much as I care about the execution of certain shots or tactics or whatever it is.

Djokovic is now 440 points behind Rafael Nadal in the battle to become year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. The Serbian must reach the final for a chance to be year-end No. 1 for a sixth time, which would match the record of Pete Sampras (1993-98). Nadal begins his campaign on Monday against defending champion Alexander Zverev in Group Andre Agassi on Monday night.

The 32-year-old Djokovic has compiled a 54-9 match record this year, including five tour-level titles at the Australian Open (d. Nadal) and Wimbledon (d. Federer), two ATP Masters 1000 events at the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Tsitsipas) and at the recent Rolex Paris Masters (d. Shapovalov), plus one ATP 500-level title at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships (d. Millman).

Djokovic made the breakthrough in the sixth game, when Berrettini over-hit two groundstrokes to put him under pressure. While the eighth seed saved the first break point, a forehand in the net handed Djokovic a 4-2 lead. Twelve forehand unforced errors in the 28-minute opener cost Berrettini, the first Italian to play singles at the season finale since Corrado Barazzutti in 1978.

From 2-2 in the first set, Djokovic ran through the next eight games for a commanding 4-0 lead in the second set. A double fault from Berrettini gave Djokovic his third service break, but Berrettini was able to gain a single break for 1-4, when Djokovic struck a backhand wide. Djokovic completed victory with a routine forehand winner, close to the net. The 2008, 2012-15 champion is now 36-12 lifetime at the season finale. Berrettini committed 28 unforced errors in total.

When asked if Djokovic remembered his first match at the Nitto ATP Finals, the Serbian recalled, “I remember back in I think it was 2007 that I played for the first time in Shanghai, and I think I lost all three matches in the group. I was with Nadal and Ferrer… But I was tense. I was happy that I was there, of course. I was very proud to be part of this elite eight guys, but it's an environment which is kind of new to you. Even though it's a tennis court, a tennis match, it's still different, knowing that you're there for the first time and that you're going to play against a Top 10 player every match in the group.

“It's a lot of pressure mentally, you know, that you have to deliver your best, where for us guys that have been playing on the top level for many years, we have the experience. We know how to handle these kind of situations emotionally, mentally.”

Berrettini, who started 2019 outside of the Top 50 in the ATP Rankings, has enjoyed a breakthrough year and compiled a 42-22 match record. He has won two ATP Tour titles at the Hungarian Open in Budapest (d. Krajinovic) and at the MerdedesCup in Stuttgart (d. Auger-Aliassime). He was also runner-up at the BMW Open by FWU (l. to Garin).

“I think he was returning unbelievable, the most impressive thing that he did,” said Berrettini, who admitted to nerves. “I’ve learned a lot from Roger and from Rafa. For sure I'm going to learn a lot from him. We were playing flat, fast, and he was moving better than me, was playing better than me. So it was tough to win the points. But I think I played really good. I mean, not really good, but a good match. I'm feeling pretty confident.”

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