The two semi-finals at this years’ Rolex Paris Masters produced two excellent matches which augurs well for Sunday’s final.
Rublev was suffocating me like a snake suffocates a frog for most of the match, Novak Djokovic
The two survivors of a strong field which started at the beginning of the week, now have a lot to live up to having established an extremely high level of tennis at this, the last ATP Tour 1000 level event of the season.
The day started with the unseeded Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov edging Stefanos Tsitsipas, the seventh seeded Greek, 6-3 6-7(1) 7-6(3) in a two-hour, 31-minute battle and he was joined in the final by the world No.1 and top-seeded Novak Djokovic who, after three-hours, scraped through 5-7 7-6(3) 7-5 against Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the evening match,
“It’s been an amazing week,” Dimitrov said on reaching his second Masters final “In a way, I was very happy coming into this week, because I just wanted to see where I’m at, mentally and physically. That was I think the biggest thing for me. Next thing you know, a week later I’m on the final. So this is, yeah, as good as it gets right now.”
The two were evenly matched after Tsitsipas collected the opener, and then missed a few break chances early in the third but the pendulum swung Dimitrov’s way when he seemingly raised his level with some of his trademark shots, closing it out with a beautifully executed backhand pass for his second win in eight meetings with the Greek star.
“When the tiebreak began, I said to myself, Okay, he’s been playing very solid,” Dimitrov added. “I have been doing a lot of good things right. But in the same time, I have been very, like, solid throughout the whole match. So I need to lean on the things that I did well.
“Of course, a couple of serves here and there, I read them very well. Great returns, attack the ball. Yeah, next thing you know, I was far ahead in the tiebreak. So that was already a big thing.”
The 32-year-old Bulgarian has now won nine of his last 10 matches at Masters level, following his run into the last four in Shanghai.
“Wrong choices in the tiebreak, for sure,” Tsitsipas, who was on a run of five straight wins over his opponent, admitted. “I was serving so well at that point, and I decided to slow down my serve in the very beginning of the tiebreaker and come to the net, which was something I’m not used to do. It kind of felt right to do, but it’s one of those things I kind of regret doing today.
“It was definitely a point I could have won, including the next one. So two very lousy points which gave him, like, a massive lead there, and (I) could have done better. I was not very prepared to just go for big shots. I slowed down. I tried to play a little bit conservative which didn’t work.”
A few hours later, the second semi-final was called and while the favourite for the title had been hindered by a stomach bug during the week, Djokovic could not be counted out as he held a solid winning record against the Russian having beaten him five times in their previous six meetings.
But the world No5 nearly pulled it off.
“Rublev was suffocating me like a snake suffocates a frog for most of the match,” Djokovic revealed after completing his longest match of the week. “He was playing an extremely high level that he possesses, but today he was off the charts, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever faced Rublev this good.”
That level was maintained throughout the first two hours of the match as Rublev dominated but Djokovic’s now famous resilience, helped him through the tie-break to stay in contention.
Djokovic took a 12-minute break for a change of clothes and a few moments of reflection plus treatment to his lower back.
He held on in the third and had a chance to break in the fourth game. However, he maintained the pressure throughout, a factor which eventually affected Rublev’s play as his level started to drop and, at 5-6 on his serve, smashed his racket in sheer frustration and disappointment after delivering a double fault, his second of the match, on match point!
“I was struggling with my fitness again a little bit at the beginning, but I kind of went through it,” Djokovic said on winning his 17th match since losing the Wimbledon final. “It was crucial obviously to win the second set. The tie-break, I served very well and that helped.
“In the third set, I thought I was always there in his service games, having chances. He came up with some big serves when he needed to, but in the end, a double fault. An unfortunate ending for him, but I think I deserved it considering the amount of effort and fight I put in, especially in the third.”
Djokovic is now poised to claim his 97th career title, 40th at Masters level and seventh at the Paris Indoors.
His record against Dimitrov is juts one loss in 12 meetings and that loss was incurred in Madrid 2013 when the Bulgarian won his only Masters title. In addition, Dimitrov hasn’t won a title since 2017, when he picked up the prestigious ATP Final crown in London.
Looking ahead to the Paris final, Djokovic said: “Going through quite a difficult stomach virus that really made me feel terrible the past three days, but somehow managing to find strength, find energy under the adrenaline rush of playing a match. Not giving up, fighting and believing that I can come back, which happened again and hopefully it can happen tomorrow.”