November 20, 2020
Novak Djokovic kept his title hopes alive in London with a convincing win over Alexander Zverev.
A sixth ATP Tour Finals trophy remains within Novak’s grasp after he beat his young rival 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
But he faces a mouthwatering semi-final showdown with Dominic Thiem next.
And Djokovic will have to play even better if he wants to reach yet another showpiece.
Novak said: ‘I played him last year and he beat me 7-6 in the third set. Hopefully this time it will be a different outcome.
‘Early in his career Dominic played his best tennis on clay. But being one of the hardest workers and most dedicated players on tour, he has found his A-game on all surfaces.
‘That’s why he just won his first Grand Slam on a hard-court at the US Open.’
Djokovic knows how hard that semi-final will be in comparison to the match he has just negotiated.
The score against Sascha was a fair reflection of Novak’s superiority. The early exchanges suggested the encounter might be over very quickly indeed, though.
It took Djokovic just nine minutes to race into a commanding 3-0 lead.
This was more like the player who won Wimbledon last year. The man whose mind and body habitually work so well together.
You sense that Djokovic loves the critics to doubt him. He loves to show people what short memories they have.
There was no way back for Zverev in the opener, even though he did seem to be playing his way into the match before Novak closed out that first set.
Djokovic thwarted his opponent’s comeback with equal efficiency. He looked totally focused and committed to reaching the last four.
We had wondered whether Novak’s defeat to Daniil Medvedev had hinted at weariness or lack of motivation.
More likely he just didn’t want to stay in the storm the Russian created, knowing he could probably pick off Zverev in the last round Robin match, when it really mattered.
There were glimmers of strength and brilliance from the German. We’ll hope to see the real Sascha in all his glory at Wimbledon 2021.
But Djokovic was calm and composed and devastating in almost everything he did.
Too often, Zverev’s shoulders slumped and he appeared detached from the fight.
There should have been no reason for the taller man to lack confidence. He beat Novak here two years ago on his way to the title.
Tbe second set looked more promising for the younger man. Particularly when Novak double-faulted and allowed his adversary two break points for a 3-1 lead.
But Djokovic showed extraordinary court-craft to turn the game back in his favour, even though his serve wasn’t quite on song at that stage.
Zverev complained to his team as though it were all their fault.
The truth is that Sascha didn’t make the right decisions and or achieve the best shot executions often enough. Particularly when he had key opportunities to make a serious impact.
Zverev traded blows effectively enough to go 5-4 and 6-5 up in the second. Twice he was just two points short of taking the second set.
So near yet so far.
Sascha certainly isn’t short of talent. But in a tie-break, where psychology plays such a big part, you sensed that Djokovic would probably prevail.
So it proved, despite Zverev taking an early lead in that breaker. Djokovic played the big points supremely well to close out.
Novak explained: ‘Contrary to the last match against Daniil Medvedev, I managed to find the right shots at the right time.
‘In the tie-break I read his approach on 4-3 and served well when I needed to.’
That is the way of champions. And that is where young pretenders need to strengthen.
Zverev will continue to learn and grow as a player. He should be awesome at Wimbledon 2021.
Novak isn’t at the very peak of his form. But he retains the versatility and know-how to get a job done against a more erratic opponent.
Can he get past someone with the all-round strength of Dominic Thiem right now?
Djokovic will have to play even better to reach the final. But you wouldn’t put it past him.
This is, after all, the man who will receive warm applause as reigning champion when Wimbledon 2021 starts next summer.
What a wonderful moment it will be when Novak comes back to London to open proceedings on the sacred grass of the All England Club in just a few months’ time.