Vesely Stuns Djokovic, Whose No. 1 Reign Will End Monday
After Medvedev reached the quarter-finals at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC on Wednesday, Djokovic knew he had to advance into the last four at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships if he wanted to continue his bid to remain atop tennis' mountain.
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE ⚡️ ⚡️@jiri_vesely stuns Djokovic for the 2nd time in his career, ending his reign at No. 1 with a 6-4 7-6 victory! pic.twitter.com/YXVuWHCuxq Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 24, 2022
However, the 34-year-old came up against an inspired Vesely, who played aggressively throughout to stun Djokovic 6-4, 7-6(4) in one hour and 57 minutes.
“It is an amazing feeling,” Vesely said in his on-court interview. “I never really thought I would have a chance against Novak. He is one of the greatest of all time. After the past 12 months, it is unbelievable. I have so many emotions inside. It is hard to describe. It is an amazing feeling.”
The Czech qualifier recovered from failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, recomposing himself to prevail in the tie-break under the lights on centre court.
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“Playing against Novak, he is such a great groundstroke player,” Vesely added. “He moves really well. You really have to earn it and fight for every single point. I think I did an amazing job today. I tried to keep the rallies short. Of course Novak had huge support. I love these matches playing against the best players in the world. Having full stadiums is something I have dreamt about my whole life. ”
On Monday, Medvedev will become the third Russian man to reach No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1999) and Marat Safin (2000-01). The 25-year-old will also join Andy Murray (2016) as the only first-time World No. 1 since Djokovic first reached top spot in July 2011.
Photo Credit: Francois Nel/Getty Images
“It is great for tennis to have someone new at World No. 1,” Vesely added. “Novak is such a champion, he has been No. 1 for 361 weeks, but tennis needs new World No. 1s and there is a new generation coming up and I think it is great.”
Vesely has now defeated the top seed twice, having won their other meeting in Monte Carlo in 2016. It is the first time the qualifier has reached the semi-finals at a tour-level event since 2020, when he enjoyed a run to the title in Pune.
The 28-year-old, who had never been beyond the first round at the ATP 500 event in three previous appearances, has now earned four Top 10 wins, with his last before he defeated Djokovic coming against then-World No. 5 Alexander Zverev at Wimbledon in 2019.
Vesely moved past Marin Cilic in the first round and then upset Roberto Bautista Agut to set up a match against Djokovic. The two-time tour-level titlist will look to continue his dream run when he faces sixth-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov or Ricardas Berankis in the semi-finals. Vesely held a 1-5 record on the season prior to this week.
Since Djokovic regained his No. 1 status in February 2020 he has won eight tour-level titles, including three Grand Slam crowns and three ATP Masters 1000 trophies. The 34-year-old was competing in his first tournament of the year this week in Dubai.
“I want to thank the crowd for creating a great atmosphere on the court for both players,” Djokovic said. “The crowd were cheering me on but unfortunately it wasn’t my day. He played better. He just went for his shots. His serve was big. His whole game was big. When he needed to come up with the big shots, he did. I expected myself to play at a higher level, but credit to Jiri.”
The sixth seed fired 14 aces and did not face a break point to triumph after one hour and 32 minutes, improving his ATP Head2Head record against Berankis to 3-1.
The 22-year-old, who is aiming to win his first tour-level title since he triumphed in Stockholm in 2019, is now 11-4 on the season.
Shapovalov helped guide Canada to the ATP Cup title in January, before he enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open. The World No. 14 also reached the last four in Dubai last season, losing to South African Lloyd Harris.