Some new milestones will be laid on Sunday when Casper Ruud and Novak Djokovic meet in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals being held in Turin, Italy to mark the end-of this long and intense season.
I am very pleased to have overcome this one as I don’t think it was one of my best days with my tennis, but I managed to hang in there Novak Djokovic
Ruud is the first Norwegian to make the final but also the first Scandinavian in 32 years to contest the end-of season title.
The last player from the Nordic region to reach the title round was Sweden’s Stefan Edberg back in 1990 (Frankfurt) having won it the previous year in New York and, while Ruud would love to emulate his 1989 achievement, Djokovic will present a huge hurdle having already, earlier in the week during the group stages, lost to him in straight sets for the loss of just 5 games.
Djokovic is also attempting to win the title for a sixth time to match Roger Federer’s record having now reached his 15th career ATP Finals title match.
Both semi-finals provided some tight tennis with Djokovic surprisingly scheduled first considering he was playing his second match within 24 hours and that had been won after more than three hours of play while his opponent, Taylor Fritz, had had a day off!
Even so the Serb was up for it to go through a tight one-hour and 54-minute confrontation 7-6(5) 7-6(6) which was marred by a stupid fan calling out at a critical moment of the match.
Fritz, having broken the Djokovic serve and serving for the second set, was distracted in mid stroke by a call from the crowd resulting in the 25-year-old American missing and open court with a backhand down the line with the ball striking the top of the net. Fritz’ anguish was plain to see.
Djokovic got the break back to level and then just engaged Fritz in long rallies to force a second tiebreak which he went on to claim relatively comfortably.
“I had to fight to survive,” Djokovic admitted. “I didn’t feel very reactive today or very comfortable. I knew coming into today’s match from yesterday’s gruelling battle against Medvedev I knew it would take me some time to adjust and find the dynamic movement I need against Fritz, who is one of the best servers on the Tour.
“I had to be very patient, I didn’t start the second set very well,” he added.
“I am very pleased to have overcome this one as I don’t think it was one of my best days with my tennis, but I managed to hang in there.”
Fritz, who arrived in Turin as an Alternate Player and was called up when Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish world No.1 was forced to pull out with an injury, certainly had made the most of his good fortune in his first ATP Finals.
“Typically I’m good at tiebreakers,” Fritz said. “I feel like my tiebreaker record throughout my career has definitely been really good. Today I played both tiebreakers pretty well.
“I’m right there. It’s small margins in tennis. It’s always like that. It’s very small margins. Just need to get that little bit better and I’m right there.”
Ruud’s passage into the final saw him overwhelm Andrey Rublev 6-2 6-4 in 68-minutes and should be the fresher of the two finalists.
Playing in his second semi-final at the event, Ruud has already improved on his record at the Finals, but he has still to pocket a ‘major’ title having lost the title match at the French and US Opens, as well as the Miami Masters.
On this occasion Rublev got off to a strong start to lead 2-1 but then Ruud turned on the power. He crucially captured the Rublev serve with a superb forehand to go 4-2 and while the Russian battled to recover, he was broken again in the seventh much to his evident fury shown during the changeovers.
That frustration resulted in racket throwing during the second set as Ruud quickly established a 4-0 lead when finally, Rublev got off the mark to push his opponent by claiming three consecutive games when Ruud was poised to for victory, but successfully serving out at his second attempt.
“It’s tough sometimes because things are obviously going great, but sometimes they can go almost too well,” Ruud said following his win. “So you feel like you can do anything with the ball and you can get a little bit ahead of yourself.
“I don’t think I did when I was serving for it. Andrey hit some great returns, aggressive with the forehand. Of course, you tend to hesitate a little bit. Luckily for me, I go out there at 5-4 and serve with new balls, so that helps a lot. I knew that I had the backup break. I wasn’t stressing too much. Everything sort of was going my way today.”
Djokovic leads Ruud 3-0 and 6-0 in sets so Ruud will have to beat someone he has never won a set from to win his biggest career title.
“He’s a player that doesn’t have many weaknesses at all,” said Ruud looking toward the final. “But he’s human.
“It’s not like he plays these finals every day of his career, in his life. I’m sure he will also feel a little bit of pressure. There’s a lot on the line. I may be ahead of him, but I feel like the underdog. He has won this tournament five times and I’ve seen them all on TV, how great he has played.”
It will be an interesting final – victory for Ruud would raise his ranking back to world No.2, leap-frogging Rafa Nadal. He would also be the youngest player, at 23, to end the year at that level.
In the doubles Joe Salisbury is bidding to become 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, hopes to become the 18th American to win the year-end doubles title. Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic are the first All-Croatian team to advance to the doubles championship match. At the 2020 London edition of the Finals, Mektic became the first Croat to win the singles or doubles title with Dutchman Wesley Koolhof.