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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, November 17, 2021


World No. 1 Novak Djokovic drilled 14 aces dismantling Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-2 rolling into his 10th ATP Finals semifinal in Turin.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

Racing from alley-to-alley, Novak Djokovic delivered an audacious defensive display that seemed to shrink the court to the size of a welcome mat.

The 34-year-old Serbian speaks Italian and regards Italy as “a second home.”

More: Tsitsipas Withdraws from ATP Finals

Today, a dominant Djokovic showed Andrey Rublev the door serving imposing eviction.

In a near-pristine performance, Djokovic dismantled Rublev 6-3, 6-2 rolling into his 10th ATP Finals semifinal in Turin. Djokovic drained the drama from the first meeting between the pair showing deeper dimension to his game than a rattled Rublev.

“It was a great match from my side,” Djokovic told Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj afterward. “I started a bit nervous and he did too. We lost our opening service games.

“It was quite close—really anybody’s game—up to 4-3 then I managed to put an extra return into play made him come to the net, made a good passing shot. Obviously after that I started to swing through the ball a bit more freely from the back of the court mix up the pace. He plays very quick. I knew I had to be at my best to dominate him today on the court.”

It is Djokovic’s 40th ATP Finals victory, which moves him past Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl into second place all-time behind Roger Federer, who owns 59 wins at the prestigious season-ending event. Djokovic, who beat Casper Ruud in his opener, moves to 2-0 in Green Group play at the round-robin event, securing his semifinal spot as fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas withdrew from the tournament due to a right elbow injury.

After dropping serve in the opening game, Djokovic dropped the hammer on Rublev.

The top seed smacked 14 aces, slashing aces to end both sets, mixed speeds masterfully, broke Rublev four times and effectively exploited the fifth seed’s suspect net play in a rousing 68-minute win.

Continuing his quest to become the oldest ATP Finals champion in history, Djokovic raised his record to 50-6 in 2021 while denying Rublev his 50th win of the year. Superior serving, his ability to alter the shape of his shots and clean ball striking— Djokovic committed just eight unforced errors compared to 26 for his opponent—powered the world No. 1 today.

“It was surprising how quick his pace is—he stays close to the line—he really goes for it,” Djokovic said. “So he was making a lot of unforced errors today.

“But I think I kind of put him out of the comfort zone where he likes to be. All in all it was a very positive match.”

If was Rublev's first meeting with a world No. 1 since 2017 and he conceded emotions and Djokovic's comprehensive court coverage conspired against him.

"For sure could be much worse about the emotions and for sure could be much better, because today still was a lot of emotions," Rublev said. "I could feel it during the rallies, because looks like everything is fine, looks like I'm playing some good rallies, but then suddenly so many unusual mistakes, easy from the positions that normally I'm playing well, I'm hitting hard from these positions, and today I was missing a lot.

"I missed today maybe already, I missed like couple maybe completely easy to hit a winner and I missed them. So means I was a bit rushing today too much."

If he can sustain this lofty level of play, it bodes well for Djokovic’s quest for a sixth ATP Finals championship.

The first couple of games were a feeling out process as Rublev broke at 15 to open when Djokovic scattered a backhand beyond the baseline. Rublev could not confirm the break clanking a double fault and sailing a swing volley as Djokovic broke right back.

Assertive serving powered Rublev through his round-robin opener against Stefanos Tsitsipas, but in his first meeting with the world No. 1 the Russian repeatedly saw his serves coming back and realized every point would come at a premium.

The 24-year-old Russian sailed a backhand to face break point in the eighth game. Djokovic hit his first pass right into the body to unsettle the Russian then ripped a backhand pass crosscourt breaking for 5-3.

Tennis Express

The five-time champion fired his seventh ace down the middle closing the 36-minute opening set in style. Djokovic broke the power player down from the baseline winning 12 of the last 16 points of the set.

Former junior world No. 1 Rublev got a taste of why Djokovic is a dominant world No. 1 in the third game of the second set.

Djokovic lured Rublev forward then played over his head with a brilliant rainbow lob winner.

Successive sensational sliding gets from an acrobatic Djokovic saw the Serbian flick back would-be winners from both doubles alleys coaxing a netted response from a surprised Rublev. A fired up Djokovic threw a fierce uppercut to celebrate a dynamic point.

Spooked by Djokovic’s dynamic movement, the fifth seeded Russian tried squeezing a backhand down the line but missed it wide as Djokovic scored his third break for 2-1.

The Wimbledon winner rolled through six straight points confirming the break for 3-1.

Gaining his groove on serve, Djokovic pumped his 10th and 11th aces back-to-back extending his lead to 4-2.

Oppressive defense and pure ball-striking from Djokovic left Rublev with little recourse but to try to land his drives closer to the lines. Djokovic drained more errors from the Russian including a flat drive into the middle of the net breaking again for 5-2.

Djokovic drilled his 14th ace closing a commanding victory in 68 minutes to reach the final four for the 10th time in 14th ATP Finals appearances.

After giving Rublev the runaround, Djokovic wasn’t done giving—he placed one of his signature baseball caps on a young fan’s head to share the celebration.


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