Novak Djokovic brought the curtain down on what has been a traumatic year for him, by winning his sixth ATP Finals trophy to match his old (but now retired) rival Roger Federer and replace him as the oldest player to win the title sponsored by the huge Japanese conglomerate Nitto, defeating Casper Ruud 7-5 6-3 in the process in 92-minutes.
I made him run, made him play. I was really pleased with the way I played. I was looking to be very aggressive, and it worked great. I am really pleased with the performance. Novak Djokovic
Federer was 30 years of age when he last won the title in 2011 so Djokovic, at 35, could be said to have smashed that one! As a matter of interest, they are the only players to become champions in their thirties with the Serb going one better by becoming the first player to win the title in three separate decades, his last prior to this one was his defeat of Federer in 2015.
“I missed a couple of forehands in the last game when I was serving for it,” Djokovic said following his 91st career title. “I had nerves, but I am really grateful to be able to serve the match out. I had a big ace to close out. Seven years has been a long time. At the same time, the fact that I waited seven years makes this victory even sweeter and even bigger.”
“One break of serve was enough in both sets. I knew Casper was playing really well coming into this match. We both served really well, and I think in some decisive moments, like the 12th game of the first set, I managed to put a few returns back in play,” added Djokovic who lost just six points on his first serve.
”I made him run, made him play. I was really pleased with the way I played. I was looking to be very aggressive, and it worked great. I am really pleased with the performance.”
With that win Djokovic extends his record over the Norwegian to 4-0 and has still to drop a set to the 23-year-old from Scandinavia.
For a third time this season, Ruud has failed to capture a major title having reached the final. He ends his year with three titles to his credit to improve his overall tally to 9 and reflecting on what could have been at Roland Garros (lost to Rafa Nadal), the US Open (lost to Carlos Alcaraz) and now Turin, He also lost in the Miami Masters final to the 19-year-old Spaniard.
“In the end it’s been disappointing to end up losing these big finals,” Ruud admitted. “Overall, if you gave me an offer to end the year at No. 3, play the finals that I’ve played, at the 1st of January this year, I would probably sign the contract right away. No doubt about it.
“This result to me is maybe one of the most surprising, finishing the year here on a blistering fast indoor hard court, making the final, not something that I found very likely,” Ruud continued. “Maybe neither did I, in the US Open, to make the final.
“I’ve overachieved compared to my own mind, so I’m very happy about that.”
Djokovic, who basically lost his spot at the top of the world rankings as a result of his stubborn refusal to be vaccinated against Covid19 resulting in him being deported from Australia and then prevented from playing any of the events on the North American swing. He even lost out from winning Wimbledon as the ATP had withdrawn ranking points following the AELTC’s ban on Russian players in reaction to Putin’s illegal invasion of the Ukraine.
However, having now won 18 of his last 19 matches and risen to fifth in the rankings, Djokovic will have set his sights on a quick move back up the rankings next year having had his three-year ban from Australia rescinded, news of which he received during Turin.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that what I hold in my mind is a huge hunger still to win trophies,” Djokovic revealed. “Make history of this sport, compete on the highest level all around the world, bring good emotions to sports fans, tennis fans. That’s what drives me a lot.
“I have a lot of different motivational factors, and I don’t lack any motivation for the moment. Of course, we all have bad days or bad weeks. But generally, the feel is still there.”
That was very clear on Sunday for, having been kept on court for over five hours by Daniil Medvedev and Taylor Fritz in the previous 48-hours, he was definitely fatigued but his mental strength kept him in the contest throughout.
After edging a close opening set, Djokovic upped his game and simply outplayed his opponent in front of a capacity crowd in Turin to clinch the season-ending trophy.
Djokovic overcame an injury scare in the first set when he appeared to jar his knee while trying to outmanoeuvre Ruud at the net with the score at 2-2. He also appeared to have the shakes again when he took his seat at the change of ends, similar to when he played Medvedev in his final group match three days ago.
The 21-time major winner may have been feeling far from his best, but his serve was as immaculate as ever to finally claim the opening set in 52-minutes by securing the first break of the night after striking a sensational forehand up the line.
In the second it was one-way traffic from the start and after another clean hold, Djokovic put daylight between himself and Ruud with another break following a series of forehands.
Ruud had no answer to Djokovic’s penetrating and accurate serving and was again powerless to stop the Serb from rolling on to his sixth success at the 53rd edition of the event,
The last word however, should be left with Ruud who paid tribute to the champion during the presentation ceremony.
“I can’t imagine how difficult this year has been for you at times. Hats off to you for what you have overcome and what you have achieved this year. It’s been nothing but remarkable.
“Really, really impressive. Congratulations again for showing everyone you’re still up there, still finishing off this year in a great way.”
And so to 2023 where Djokovic is favourite to win his 10th Australian Open title and match Rafa Nadal’s 22-grand slam title record.
In the doubles Joe Salisbury is the first Brit to win the Nitto ATP Finals doubles title one year after becoming the first to reach the final. His American partner, Rajeev Ram, on the other hand, becomes the 18th American to win the year-end doubles title.
The pair beat Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, the first All-Croatian team to advance to the doubles championship match, 7-6(4) 6-4 after 86-minutes and as undefeated champions, earn themselves $930,300 which is the biggest doubles pay-out in the history of the competition
“That’s probably up there with one of our best matches, one of our best matches as a team,” Salisbury said. “I think we’re so proud of everything we’ve done this week. We’ve come through some tough situations, but we’ve stuck together the whole way. [I’m] so happy, I can’t believe we’ve achieved this.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Ram added. “My partner played out of this world today, but I guess that’s what you’ve got to do and that’s why he’s one of the best around. He saves his best for the biggest moments. I’m so proud of us a team for sure.”