Novak Edges Roger In 2018 Paris Thriller
"We had epic matches throughout our rivalry but this one definitely ranks as one of the best matches we played."
Can anyone stop Novak Djokovic? The Serbian has been an impervious force over the past four months and on Sunday he will play for a record-tying 33rd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title (w/Nadal).
Djokovic extended his win streak to 22 straight with a 7-6(6), 5-7, 7-6(3) victory over Roger Federer in the Rolex Paris Masters semi-finals. At three hours and two minutes, their longest three-set meeting was a scintillating affair at the AccorHotels Arena, as the pair battled for a coveted spot in the championship at the Masters 1000 event.
Not only did Djokovic overcome 54 winners off Federer's racquet, but his 0/12 break-point conversion rate proved to be the first time he has squandered double-digit break chances in his career. But the Belgrade native was too clutch in the big moments, digging deep in the critical stages in both tie-breaks, including a set point saved at 6/5 in the first.
"We had epic matches throughout our rivalry but this one definitely ranks as one of the best matches we played," said Djokovic. "High quality tennis. Next to the match I played against Nadal in the semis of Wimbledon, this was definitely the most exciting match I was playing this year, and probably the best quality tennis match that I was part of.
"It was also expected, because when I get to play Roger, I know I have to get the best out of myself in order to win. And that's why our rivalries and matches are so special."
Behind a determined display from the back of the court, Djokovic reigned once again against Federer, booking his spot in the Paris final for a fifth time. He carries a 4-0 record in Paris title matches into a championship encounter with Karen Khachanov on Sunday, having reigned in 2009 and 2013-15. Moreover, the win against Federer is his 11th victory against a Top 10 opponent this season and he has now claimed 10 matches in a row against that elite group.
Djokovic, who will return to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings on Monday - for the first time in two years - continues his quest to finish in the year-end top spot for a fifth time. Meanwhile, Federer's bid to end the year at No. 1 comes to a close.
Meeting for the 47th time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, Djokovic extended his advantage to 25-22. He has now won four straight encounters since 2015. Their lone previous meeting in Paris came exactly five years ago in the 2013 semis. Djokovic stormed back from a set down, en route to the title, kicking off his run of three straight crowns in the French capital.
Following their Cincinnati encounter in August, Federer described his returning performance as one of the worst of his career. He claimed just 26 per cent of such points and looked to flip the script as they entered the fast indoor courts of Paris-Bercy on Saturday. But as proceedings got underway, Djokovic's delivery proved to be untouchable once again.
And the Serbian was on the prowl with Federer serving at 3-4, forcing the Swiss to retreat to his backhand corner as he stood tall on the baseline. Federer would save four break points in that game, including a moment of magic that put his razor reflexes to the test. A Djokovic forehand clipped the net and spun towards Federer's head, but the Swiss quickly raised his racquet and struck a sublime drop volley to the delight of the Parisian faithful.
"The quality of his serve tonight was quite amazing, to be honest," Djokovic added. "His serve was always his weapon. But, you know, tonight he was just hitting the spots beautifully. He was mixing it up.
And even though usually on the return I feel comfortable, but, you know, at times you have matches where just the opponent is on a roll. He's feeling good. He's serving well. There's not much you can do. Just wait for your opportunities and, when they are presented, you try to capitalise on them."
The riveting first set would proceed to a tie-break and Djokovic would seize the initiative, denying a set point and sealing the opener when a Federer backhand slid wide. He fired nine winners in the 71-minute opening set.
Coming into the match, Djokovic owned a commanding 17-1 record against Federer when winning the opener, but the Swiss looked to turn the tables in the second. They once again remained on serve throughout the set, but it was Federer who came up clutch in the critical stage. With Djokovic serving to force another tie-break, his Swiss rival pounced, reeling off nine of 11 points to suddenly snatch a late break and send the encounter to a decider. He launched a forehand winner down the line to seize the set.
Djokovic's inability to convert on his first 10 break points shined bright, particularly in the opening game of the third set. The second seed had a 15/40 look, but Federer clamped down once again. In faster conditions, the Swiss' serve is as reliable a weapon as any and it frequently did damage on Saturday.
The drama would reach a pulsating crescendo in a deciding tie-break. It marked the third time in which a tie-break has settled a meeting between the two superstars. Djokovic entered with a 2-0 record, having prevailed in the 2007 Montreal final and 2014 Indian Wells final. And the trend would continue as the clock edged towards 9pm in Paris. A Federer double fault gave two mini-breaks to Djokovic at 4/1 and he would not look back, crossing the finish line after just over three hours when a Federer forehand found the net.
With the defeat, Federer's quest for a 100th tour-level crown will wait until the Nitto ATP Finals in two weeks. He was bidding to reach a 49th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final and second in Paris, having lifted the trophy in 2011. In addition, the World No. 3's outside chance of finishing as year-end No. 1 came to an end.