Blockbuster Dubai Final: Djokovic & Tsitsipas Add Chapter To Budding Rivalry
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas will clash on Saturday in a dream final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The two stars have only played four times in their ATP Head2Head series, but each of those meetings have come at an ATP Masters 1000 event, and their battle in Dubai will give either 32-year-old Djokovic or 21-year-old Tsitsipas a 3-2 lead in what is a budding rivalry.
“He's one of the leaders of the new generation. He's now established [as a] Top 5, Top 10 player of the world. He is a hard worker, dedicated, very charismatic guy, nice guy. He has a lot of talent, a lot of passion for the sport, for the game,” said Djokovic, who carries a 17-0 record in 2020 into the championship match. “I think he's fantastic for our sport, not just the way he plays but his charisma, his character, the way he behaves. He's a really nice guy to have for tennis. It's anybody's game really.”
Tsitsipas, who is on an eight-match winning streak, is trying to become the third active player (Kyrgios, Karlovic) and the sixth overall to own a winning record against Djokovic. The Greek, who leads the tournament in service games won (41/43, 95%), revealed the mentality he brings into his matches against the Serbian, who leads this ATP 500 in return games won (17/37, 46%).
“I just respect him a lot. I come in knowing that it's not your regular guy. You just have to give more than usual. My attention span has to be there,” Tsitsipas said. “I can see the bright side of having a positive record. I'm going to try and stay humble. I'm doing well. I'm doing my job correctly. I should continue everything the way I do it. It's great having a positive record against Novak. I don't know if it helps or not, but I obviously want more. That's for sure.”
ATPTour.com looks back at Djokovic and Tsitsipas’ first four ATP Head2Head meetings:
2019 Rolex Paris Masters - Quarter-finals - Djokovic def. Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-2 (Read Match Report)
Fresh off a loss against Tsitsipas in Shanghai, this was a critical moment for Djokovic in the battle for 2019 year-end No. 1 with Rafael Nadal. If Djokovic stood any chance of going into the Nitto ATP Finals with a shot at that honour, he needed to stay within 1,500 points of Nadal in Paris.
Djokovic showed his urgency in a 6-1, 6-2 victory against the Greek, winning a higher rate of second-serve points (77%) than Tsitsipas did first-serve points (63%). According to Hawkeye, Djokovic went down the line with his backhand 51 per cent of the time to great effect, and he did not face a break point.
The Serbian went on to claim his 34th ATP Masters 1000 title. And although he didn’t finish year-end No. 1, Djokovic made a statement to level his rivalry with Tsitsipas.
2019 Rolex Shanghai Masters - Quarter-finals - Tsitsipas def. Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 (Read Match Report)
Tsitsipas did not realise he had qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time when he stepped on the court for this match. But he showed the grit of a London competitor by rallying from a set down against the World No. 1. The Greek had to hold his nerve on serve at 3-3 in the second set when he faced deuce, but he turned the match around to triumph in two hours and three minutes.
Tsitsipas became the seventh active player (and the youngest) to beat Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer in the same season. Twenty-six players have accomplished the feat overall. It was a continuation of good form for Tsitsipas, who had recently lost five of six tour-level matches before reaching the China Open final the week before Shanghai.
For Djokovic, this was a critical blow in his pursuit of a sixth year-end No. 1 finish, and it was also the first time in nine Shanghai appearances that he did not advance to at least the semi-finals.
2019 Mutua Madrid Open - Final - Djokovic def. Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 (Read Match Report)
Djokovic won the 2019 Australian Open. But after that event, he made just one quarter-final in his next three tournaments before arriving at the Mutua Madrid Open.
The Serbian turned things around there, though, punctuating his efforts on the Spanish clay with a comprehensive straight-sets victory against Tsitsipas. At the time, he levelled the race for the most Masters 1000 titles with Nadal at 33, and earned his 200th Top 10 victory to lift his third Madrid title.
Djokovic set the tone early with a break in his first return game, and he never looked back, never facing a break point in his one-hour, 33-minute victory. This was the pair’s only meeting on clay.
2018 Rogers Cup - Round of 16 - Tsitsipas def. Djokovic 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 (Read Match Report)
Tsitsipas arrived in Toronto as the No. 27 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings, while Djokovic, despite being World No. 10, was fresh off lifting the Wimbledon trophy.
Tsitsipas, who was only 19, remained calm after losing the second set, defeating Djokovic in two hours and 18 minutes to reach his first Masters 1000 quarter-final. A year prior, Tsitsipas had not won a tour-level match, but he'd beat four Top 10 opponents en route to the championship match.
It wasn’t that Djokovic lost the match through an overwhelming number of unforced errors, either. Tsitsipas showed early signs of his shotmaking and confidence, closing out his triumph with back-to-back cross-court forehand winners.