Novak Djokovic just managed to outlast Holger Rune in his first Green Group match on the opening day of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin but required three hours and three sets to achieve that and, for the eighth time, end the year as World No.1.
You have to just congratulate him. He just played a fantastic match. That’s what I told him at the net. I think in the most important moments, he played his best game and he absolutely deserved to win. Novak Djokovic
With just a day’s rest, the seven-time champion returned to face the in-form local hero Jannik Sinner, and a very hostile crowd out in full support of their ’boy’.
Again, he had to battle for over three hours but this time, he was on the losing side of an epic match which saw Sinner post his first victory over Djokovic at his fourth attempt and take pole position in the Group, 7-5 6-7(5) 7-6(2).
And the crowd played its part much to the frustration of the defending champion from Serbia, especially during the deciding set when he sarcastically led them from his chair, in tempo with the chants!
The defeat brought to an end his current winning streak at 19 with an ebullient Sinner hailing victory on court following an evening of incredible tennis and drama.
“It means a lot to me. When you win against the world No. 1 who has won 24 Grand Slams, it’s obviously at the top,” a beaming Sinner said.
“I felt like it was a really tactical match, but I managed to win, so I’m very happy.”
Sinner struck first taking the opening set after both protagonists exchanged breaks with the 22-year-old Italian capitalizing on Djokovic’s weaker second serve.
However, Djokovic held on to force a tiebreak in the second where he trailed before winning five of the last seven points to level and set the scene for an exciting decider where he twice had to recover from being a break down before pushing it into a final tiebreak where Sinner simply dominated streaking into a 5-0 lead and claiming the win on his second match point.
“I think the main difference is that in the important points, he was going for it, he was more courageous,” Djokovic later admitted. “He deserved to win because in important moments I wasn’t aggressive enough, I wasn’t decisive enough. I gave him the opportunity to take the control over the points. At 5-all in third set, 15-30, second serve, I was in the rally and should have stepped in and didn’t, and he did.
“You have to just congratulate him. He just played a fantastic match. That’s what I told him at the net. I think in the most important moments, he played his best game and he absolutely deserved to win.”
The victory will have greatly boosted Sinner’s confidence,
“It’s part of the process. I feel that I’m a little bit more confident in certain moments in a match,” Sinner revealed. “I think I was really brave and intelligent in important moments, especially the third set. I felt like we were both serving really well so there were not so many exchanges, but when the exchanges were played, we both played really well.
“That was a really high-level match.”
The quality of the match in some ways compensated for the disappointment of the earlier singles when Stefanos Tsitsipas retired after just three games, citing lower back problems, to hand Holger Rune his first victory of the Group.
“For me, it’s important to be fit and feel good with my back. The pain was very big,” former champion Tsitsipas said in explanation of his decision. “I’ve gone through pain during matches in the past, and I endured pain, but this was clearly too much to handle. I had to take the difficult decision to do what I did.
“I felt it at the second game of the match. I actually felt it in the warm-up with my serve. Warming up on my serve, I felt very irritated and lots of pain hitting me on my back. I kind of knew at that time that I might not be able to go all the way.”
Tsitsipas is now being replaced by first alternate Hubert Hurkacz and will face Djokovic in the Groups third round of matches while Rune takes on Sinner with a semi-final place at stake on Thursday.