Novak Djokovic on Friday out-battled Alexander Zverev to qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals, staying on track to match Roger Federer’s record of six titles at the end-of-season event.
The Serbian top seed, who was beaten comprehensively by Daniil Medvedev in his second round-robin match, was again below his best in London, but did enough to win 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).
In the evening match at the elite eight-man event, which was a dead rubber, Russian fourth seed Medvedev beat debutant Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3.
In a repeat of the 2018 championship match, Djokovic saved all three break points he faced to gain revenge against the German, and faces Group London 2020 winner Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals, with that match to begin shortly after press time last night.
Following that match, Medvedev, who topped Group Tokyo 1970, was to play Spanish second seed Rafael Nadal in the other last-four clash at the empty O2 Arena in London.
The group-stage results mean the four top-ranked players in the world were all involved in yesterday’s semis.
Djokovic has already tied Pete Sampras’ record mark of six year-end No. 1 finishes and is eyeing Federer’s record at the season finale.
The top seed broke Zverev at the first time of asking and raced into a 3-0 lead, threatening to run away with the match.
The 33-year-old looked focused after his uncharacteristic mauling by Medvedev, serving himself out of trouble when he found himself trailing 15-40 in the seventh game.
That proved to be the last chance for Zverev in the set and 17-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic hammered a backhand winner down the line to take it 6-3.
Djokovic handed Zverev a break point in the fourth game of the second set after double-faulting, but the German could not capitalize.
The 23-year-old fifth seed saved two break points on his serve in the following game, letting out a roar as he kept his nose in front. The set went to a tie-break. Zverev earned an early mini-break, but Djokovic leveled and the pressure was back on the German, who faltered to hand the Serbian victory.
Djokovic said he had managed to find the right shots at the right moments, in contrast to his performance against Medvedev.
Medvedev’s victory against the Argentine eighth seed gave him three wins out of three in the group stage — a far cry from his debut last year, when he lost all three matches.
The Russian, who is on a hot streak after winning the Paris Masters earlier this month, found some astonishing angles in a breathtaking display of hitting.
The giant Medvedev, 28cm taller than Schwartzman, who stands just 170cm, broke twice in the first set and once in the second.
“It’s always good to stay undefeated for the confidence,” he said. “I wanted to win the match, so really happy that I’ve done it. I think I was serving pretty good today, so that helped me a lot.”
Meanwhile, Djokovic said that tennis authorities could adopt clearer policies on domestic abuse in light of allegations made against Zverev.
The world No. 1 offered his support to Zverev, who has repeatedly denied allegations made against him by Olga Sharypova.
In an interview with Racquet Magazine, Sharypova said that Zverev was emotionally and physically abusive to her when she was his girlfriend.
She also said that she does not intend to press charges against the German.
“We don’t know what happened truly. I mean, we are going to find out obviously,” Djokovic told reporters after his win on Friday. “I have known Sascha for a very long time since he was very young. I always had a great relationship with him. Very nice guy. I have a lot of respect for him, his family.”
“So I was sad to hear and to know he’s going through something like this. I don’t know what happened. Of course, I mean, obviously I’m not supporting any kind of violence. So we will have to wait and see,” he said.
Zverev has described the allegations as “unfounded and untrue,” and without any legal investigation the men’s ATP Tour would be unlikely to intervene.
The ATP said that it condemned “any form of violence or abuse”.
“In circumstances where allegations of violence or abuse are made against any member of the Tour, legal authorities investigate and due process, we then review the outcome and decide the appropriate course of action,” the governing body of men’s tennis said in a statement last week.
World No. 7 Zverev said that he had nothing to hide.
“The players know what’s going on,” the 23-year-old told reporters on Friday.
“What else can I say? I have said everything that I can. It’s very unfortunate that these kind of false allegations can put such damage and put the attention away from the sport, but it’s the world we live in right now unfortunately,” he said.
“There is nothing more that I can do,” he said.
World No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying yesterday eased past her Thai opponent to advance to the second round of the Toyota Thailand Open. The Taiwanese star toppled world No. 46 Supanida Katethong 21-16, 21-11 in 29 minutes at the Impact Arena in Bangkok. “I think I played OK today. I am feeling a little better than last week,” Tai said. Tomorrow, Tai faces Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung. The two have faced each other six times, with Tai beating the world No. 21 in all six matches. Tai on Sunday reached the final of the Yonex Thailand Open before losing decisively against Carolina Marin of Spain.
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