Djokovic Ready For ‘Marathon Thrillers’ Against Thiem In SFs
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic moved one step closer to a record-equalling sixth title at the Nitto ATP Finals on Friday after a straight-sets victory over former champion Alexander Zverev secured his place in the semi-finals.
It was a winner-takes-all clash after both players accumulated a 1-1 record in Group Tokyo 1970. Djokovic got the job done in two sets to edge Zverev 6-3, 7-6(4) and seal his ninth semi-final in 13 appearances at the season-ending event.
The victory avenged his defeat to Zverev in the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals championship match, which saw the German lift his biggest trophy after a straight-sets stunner. It also sets up another shot at revenge, as he will take on Dominic Thiem in the last four.
“I lost to him last year in the group stage. It was a thriller, 7-6 in the third set,” Djokovic recalled in his post-match press conference. “I have lots of respect for Dominic, his game, his work ethic. Nico Massu, all his team, they’re all very nice people. They’re very dedicated and humble...
“He’s a Grand Slam champion, so obviously that’s a huge boost for him, getting that kind of pressure and expectation off his back, so I’m sure that allows him to swing freely on the court and play better than he did before.”
Djokovic came into the Nitto ATP Finals looking to add another crown to his already glittering 2020 season, which began with his eighth Australian Open title and a head-turning 26-match winning streak. He continued to dominate with ATP Masters 1000 triumphs at the Western & Southern Open in New York and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. Djokovic clinched the year-end No.1 FedEx ATP Ranking for a record-equalling sixth time.
It’s an impressive record for any player, and even more so considering the Tour’s six-month pause mid-way through the season. Djokovic assured press that he’s feeling fresh ahead of the semi-finals, but admitted that the mental toll of the current conditions has added its own set of unique challenges.
“I don't feel maybe as exhausted this year at the end of the season as most of the other seasons, but I think mentally and emotionally it has taken a lot out of players because it's very demanding, I think, to be constantly in the quarantine and not be able to go out and walk around,” he said.
“Constantly being present and being in that competitive mode, even if you are not competing in a specific week, you're still training and thinking about the season and what is coming next. I look forward to hopefully finishing off the season in the best possible manner, but I also look forward to rest before the next one.”
Before Djokovic can take a break, he’ll have to clear another tough challenge as he takes on World No. 3 Thiem for a spot in the championship match of the season finale. Djokovic leads the Austrian 7-4 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with their past five matches going to either a tie-break or a deciding set.
“It's the semi-finals, so I’m expecting a tough battle, no question about it,” Djokovic said. “He’s in very good form, he loves to play on this surface. Obviously he played in the final last year. He beat Roger [Federer] and myself last year in The O2...
“Every time that we got to play, at least in the past three or four matches, [those were] some marathon thrilling encounters… If I manage to play as well as I did today and show up with a high quality of tennis, I think I have a good chance to win. I’m just hoping I can start off the match as well as I did today.”