Djokovic Beats Raonic, Qualifies For SFs

Serbian will face Monfils in final round-robin contest

Novak Djokovic became the first player to reach the semi-finals at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals after he defeated Milos Raonic 7-6(6), 7-6(5) on Tuesday for his second match win in Group Ivan Lendl.

If Djokovic goes on to win the title, he will claim year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. The Serbian now has 11,180 points – 70 more points ahead of Andy Murray (11,110), who will play his second round-robin match against Kei Nishikori on Wednesday.

The 29 year old, who had been No. 1 for 122 consecutive weeks until 7 November, is now 29-10 at the season finale, where he is looking to capture a fifth straight trophy – and a record-equalling sixth crown overall. He will conclude his group matches against first-time qualifier Gael Monfils.

"It was a very close match," said Djokovic. "I think very few points separated us tonight. It really could have gone either way. I was fortunate to get through the first set tie-break. I was down very early in both tie-breaks tonight. But I just managed to stay committed and put pressure on his second serves... Again, two tie-breaks against a big server is a great win and great confidence boost."

Second seed Djokovic drew on his big match experience to grind out the first set. Fourth seed Raonic was composed throughout the early exchanges, aggressive with his forehand to keep Djokovic on the move. The five-time champion was forced to saved one break point in the opening game, and recovered from 15/40 in the third game. By contrast, Raonic lost just eight points through to the tie-break, the pair’s seventh in competition.

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The Canadian mis-timed a volley that could have given him a 4/1 lead, but spurred Djokovic into action with four straight points. By pinpointing Raonic’s backhand, Djokovic drew his opponent to the net before striking a perfectly timed lob for 6/5 – his first set point opportunity. Raonic held firm, gaining an error from Djokovic. But he subsequently snatched at a forehand, and then struck his second double fault to gift Djokovic the 64-minute set.

The second set was frenetic. Djokovic capitalised on Raonic’s letdown to break in the first game, although Raonic regrouped to level the score with a break to 30 for 2-2. Djokovic’s quick hands on the baseline in response to Raonic’s thunderous serve and forehand garnered another opening, and the Serbian later looked on course for his second straight love hold for a 5-3 lead. But an inexplicable lapse in concentration saw Raonic will four straight points from 0/30 for the break.

Raonic tightened up his game and finally created a set point chance with Djokovic serving at 5-6, 30/40. But with the court open, he snatched at a forehand down the line. Djokovic subsequently recovered for the tie-break, a tense affair. Djokovic clinched his one opportunity when Raonic hit a backhand wide for his 63rd match win of 2016. The best match of the week lasted two hours and 15 minutes.

"I had a couple of looks on his second serves midway through, towards the end of both tie-breaks, which helped obviously to get into the rally," said Djokovic. "I knew once I get into the rally, I have a better chance to win the point. But I should have done my job earlier, to be honest. I'm not very pleased to drop my serve twice against Milos, especially the second time. I was 4-3, 30/0, then I just made four pretty bad unforced errors. Credit to him for really hanging in there, putting pressure, being aggressive, especially from the forehand."

Raonic admitted, "I believe all the break points, except for maybe the set point at the end, he put in a first serve every single time. I believe when he had his break points, I didn't put in one. I think it's those little things that make a difference... Those moments he stepped up and played well. I just maybe hesitated a little bit too much. But overall I created a lot of opportunities. I did a lot of good things. A lot of things to be proud of."

Raonic, who beat Monfils in his first group match on Sunday, will next play eighth seed Dominic Thiem, with the winner qualifying for the semi-finals. The 25-year-old Canadian, who reached this year’s Wimbledon final, is now 51-16 (31-10 on hard) in 2016.

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