Novak Djokovic needed just one win at the Nitto ATP Finals to ensure he ended the year as the No.1 player in the world and, as expected, he achieved that with his opening match on the opening day of the end-of-season extravaganza in Turin.
I won Paris, which put me in a much better position rankings-wise, and I knew coming into Turin I only needed to win one match. A big goal is achieved, everything else now is a bonus. Novak Djokovic
However, his first opponent didn’t make it easy for him as he had to battle over three-hour, 4-minute to secure the 7-6(4) 6-7(1) 6-3 to defeat Holger Rune in his opening Green Group play-off as he launched the defence of his ATP Final title.
“It means a lot,” Djokovic said on cementing the year as No.1 for an eighth year. “You could see there were a lot of emotions on the court. I could feel it. I was very eager to win tonight’s match, get that monkey off my back. I won Paris, which put me in a much better position rankings-wise, and I knew coming into Turin I only needed to win one match. A big goal is achieved, everything else now is a bonus.”
Making his debut at the 8-man filed event, the 20-year-old Dane, proved problematic for the Serb who literally hug on during the opening set.
Rune, who is now coached by Boris Becker who famously guided Djokovic to success over many years, struck back with an early break which was quickly negated by his opponent but eventually levelled by dominating the tie-break.
With the match developing into a major struggle, it was surprising that the younger player was the one to suffer from fatigue which became evident in the third as Djokovic eventually marched to his 19th straight win, and second over Rune in three weeks.
“It took everything,” Djokovic admitted. “I saw in the first game, when he fired shots from the baseline in the first three or four points, I knew that it was going to be a tough life for me. If I wanted to win this match, I was going to have to work really hard… He was feeling the ball well, he was sharp. Very aggressive, every short ball he was coming in and he served terrific.”
While Rune may well have lost, he is being positive about it.
“We have had great matches always when we played,” the young Dane who has a great future, said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it today, but that’s how it is. I have to look forward and take the things out of the match I was happy with, take the things out of the match that I wasn’t happy with, and go back to the practise tomorrow and try to make them better.”
Up next for Djokovic is Jannik Sinner, a match scheduled for Tuesday.
The Italian in fact opened the play on Sunday with an excellent performance against Stefanos Tsitsipas defeating the Greek comfortably in 85-minutes, 6-4 6-4, delivering 9 aces in a match in which his serve dominated and was never threatened.
“I was excited to step on court and opening the Finals is really, really special,” Sinner said on court. “I knew it was going to be very tough but I think I handled the situation well. I tried to stay aggressive and I am very happy with the performance. I am happy to start off with a win and hopefully I can continue with this intensity.”
For the former champion Tsitsipas, who never looked comfortable throughout the match, was obviously disappointed at the result.
“He was attacking a lot, serving really well, kept his composure in those crucial moments that were a few today. He kept it quite clean and didn’t get too affected by any situation that came his way,” he said.