London | Djokovic keeps up the pressure
NOVAK Djokovic, tennis’ Mr Bendy, stretched his way to the edge of the Nitto ATP Finals semis when he overcame Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev 6-4 6-1 in an hour and a quarter.
I am relying on my flexibility a lot. I was fortunate to be surrounded with people who emphasised the importance of stretching and it has paid off. Mr Bendy? That’s a first. Novak Djokovic
But the tournament favourite, who relied on his ability to do the splits on a number of occasions, played down talk that he was in “breath-taking” form.
“I don’t think it was breath-taking tennis but a win is a win,” said the world No.1 searching for his sixth title at the end-of-year event involving the world’s top eight.
“I played well mid-way through the second set and started to swing through the ball.
“I had not served that well but he made a lot of unforced errors (33 in all) which helped me to win.
“It seemed like Sascha was not feeling really great, definitely not playing well, especially from the back of the court. He made a lot of errors. It wasn’t a great quality tennis match, to be honest, at least from the court.
“I am relying on my flexibility a lot. I was fortunate to be surrounded with people who emphasised the importance of stretching and it has paid off. Mr Bendy? That’s a first (in terms of being called it by courtside interviewer Annabel Croft for the BBC).”
Serial Grand Slam champion Djokovic, has made a remarkable comeback in the second half of the year after rediscovering his mojo.
And the fact the Wimbledon champion poured cold water on superlatives being handed out by former British aces Tim Henman and Andrew Castle, talking on the BBC just might have been a case of false modesty.
It was a tight, muscle-wearing first set but the match turned on its eighth game.
Zverev, the German third seed, held a break point but Djokovic recovered, held and then broke his 21-year-old opponent, the biggest rising star in the game.
Zverev managed to hold his first serve in the second but it was downhill from there as Djokovic turned on the gas.
Zverev said: “Obviously I had chances in the first set. If I break him at 4-All, we’ll see where the match goes. I think the match was much closer than the score says. For sure I feel that way. It happens. I got one more group match to play here. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully I still give myself the best chance to be in the semifinals.”
Henman said: “In the two sets, Djokovic only made 10 unforced errors. It’s not like he’s just rolling the ball into the court. He is playing at such a consistently high level. He dominated the last five games. I think he only lost two or three points. It is a solid performance and puts a big marker down to the rest in the competition.
Castle said: “This was from a guy [Djokovic] who was nowhere. He was a lost soul in the last two years after winning the French Open in 2016. He had won everything. But he is re-ignited now. I think it is fantastic to see him back at his best. It is brilliant for the game. Everyone will be watching this and thinking ‘that is a high standard’.
“This tournament is finally starting to light up. We have had a lot of ordinary matches but that wasn’t one of them. Djokovic didn’t seem to think it was but if that’s the case then I’d like to see him playing ‘well’.