The London farewell edition of the ATP Finals could still have its dream climax after world number one Novak Djokovic defeated Alexander Zverev 6-3 7-6 (4) to seal a final place on Friday.
Russian Daniil Medvedev’s loss left the five-time champion having to beat German Zverev to avoid a group stage exit and he came out on top with a relatively comfortable victory.
Djokovic will finish second in the Tokyo group, named after the first edition of the end-of-season tournament 50 years ago, and with Spain’s world number two Rafa Nadal finishing second in the London group, they avoided a semi-final. Not that a 57th career meeting is a formality, far from it.
The 33-year-old Serbian will take on US Open champion Dominic Thiem in Saturday’s first semi-final while Nadal takes on Medvedev, the most impressive player here this week.
Sunday’s final will end the tournament’s memorable 12-year stay in London before it moves to Turin. Djokovic was hit 6-3 6-3 by an inspired Medvedev on Wednesday, but was much sharper against Zverev, another of the younger generation trying to squeeze the old guard off the stage.
“Unlike the game against Daniil, I found the right shots at the right time,” he said. “I have enormous respect for Sascha, a great player and not easy to return first serves at 140 mph. It was anyone’s game for most of the game.”
Djokovic was largely beaten by Zverev in the 2018 final, a match played in an electrifying atmosphere in front of 18,000 supporters. This time, the arena was empty due to the COVID-19 lockdown, a surreal backdrop for a match with so much riding for the two men.
Despite the flat feel, Djokovic was quickly in play mode and when world number seven Zverev double faulted to give up his serve in his first service game, he took control. Zverev sank his heels in the second set but missed a chance to take a break before recovering from two double faults to fend off a break point in the next game.
Djokovic looked edgy at times and had to hold the serve twice to avoid being dragged into a third set. But the 17-time Grand Slam champion raised the level of intensity in the tie-break, leading 5-3 with a bubbly backhand pass. He lifted two match points with a heavy first serve before pressurizing Zverev in an error to complete the win.
Djokovic tries to match Roger Federer’s record of six ATP Final titles, while Nadal seeks a first. While Thiem poses a huge threat to Djokovic’s ambition, Nadal will have to overcome the outstanding performer of the week at Medvedev. The 24-year-old Muscovite completed a perfect group stage on Friday with a 6-3 6-3 loss to Diego Schwartzman.
Medvedev lost all three matches on his tournament debut last year, but hit 31 winners to crush Schwartzman and go 3-0 in the group game.