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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, November 6, 2021


Novak Djokovic edged Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-0, 7-6(5) to reach the Paris final and secure his record seventh ATP year-end world No. 1 ranking.

Photo credit: Rolex Paris Masters

A determined Novak Djokovic rode the pressure to ascend rare air in Paris.

History came in a heart-racing rush as Djokovic edged Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-0, 7-6(5) advancing to the Rolex Paris Masters final and sealing his ATP record seventh season-ending world No. 1 ranking.

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World No. 1 Djokovic achieved history surpassing the record he shared with his childhood hero, Pete Sampras, and now stands alone in seventh heaven. Hall of Famer Sampras completed six straight year-end No. 1 finishes between 1993-98. Djokovic has achieved the feat in seven of the past 11 seasons (also 2011-12, 2014-15, 2018 and ’20).

"Just proud and extremely happy. Obviously that was one of the biggest goals and it's always one of the biggest goals, to try to be No. 1 and end the season as No. 1," Djokovic said. "To do it for the record seventh time and surpass my childhood idol and role model, Pete, is incredible. Very grateful, very blessed to be in this position."

Pounding his palm over his heart, Novak Djokovic secured the season-ending No. 1 for a record seventh time, advanced to his seventh Paris Masters final and raised in index finger in the air in celebration.

Contesting just his 12th tournament of the season, an inspired Djokovic attained tennis immortality as the oldest year-end No. 1 in history.

“It means the world to me and obviously I’m thrilled and overwhelmed with wonderful emotions,” Djokovic told Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj afterward. “This was a goal for the end of the season—my biggest motivation this week.

“I felt obviously pressure, but pressure is always there. As Billie Jean says it’s a privilege—it means you’re doing something you love and you care about something when you feel it so I know how much dedication and work and care went into achieving this historic seventh time year No. 1 not just myself but family, team everyone around me. It’s amazing to be able to clinch that prior to the finals obviously.”

The top seed battled back from a set down, streaking through seven straight games and 10 of 11 in building a 4-1 third-set lead only to see Hurkacz come back, save match point in the 10th game to force the final tiebreaker.

On his second match point, Djokovic felt the dizzying drama extended as Hurkacz challenged an out call on his volley. Replay showed the ball landed wide of the sideline. Djokovic advanced to the final against either reigning champion Daniil Medvedev, who shattered the 34-year-old Serbian’s calendar Grand Slam dreams sweeping him in the US Open final, or Olympic gold-medal champion Alexander Zverev, who ended the top seed’s gold-medal hopes in Tokyo.

“I’m gonna feel more relaxed coming, in but playing Zverev or Medvedev arguably two guys that are in the best shape right now so I’m looking forward to that one,” Djokovic said.

Playing just his third match in the seven weeks since he bowed to Medvedev in the US Open final, Djokovic made some uncharacteristic errors at the outset.

Serving with new balls in the eighth game, Djokovic double faulted to face break point. Paris doubles champion Hurkacz showed smooth net skills lifting a forehand half volley then knocking off a high backhand volley down the line scoring the first break for 5-3.

The top-seeded Serbian came right back with a drop-shot winner for break point in the following game. Hurkacz hit a tame dropper, which Djokovic easily reach only to shovel his reply into net letting Hurkacz off the hook.

Hurkacz slid a slice ace out wide and that fifth ace game him a second set point. When Djokovic missed a return, Hurkacz had the 33-minute opener.

"He was deservedly the better player in the first set, then I just got rhythm going 6-love and third set 4-1," Djokovic said. "Everything was going my way then I had a pretty sloppy service game, but credit to him.

"He played well, served well. With a serve like that its just so difficult to handle that big serve, the kick, he was hitting his spots well. Really it went down to the last shot it was a challenge it was real drama in the end it just went wide. I was lucky in the end and very pleased to get through that."

The five-time champion came right back posting his break for a 2-0 second-set lead when Hurkacz sailed a shot behind the baseline.

Dialing in his groundstrokes and working over the Pole’s more erratic forehand wing in extensive exchanges, the world No. 1 drew a pair of forehand errors breaking again in the third game.

Cruising through the second set, Djokovic seized a 5-0 lead. A fired up Djokovic drew a backhand error dispensing the second-set bagel to force a decider after one hour of play.

Confronting a break point to open the third set, Djokovic denied it and elicited an errant backhand down the line stretching his streak to seven straight games.

Hurkacz finally stopped his slide with a drop volley and a full-stretch volley to level after two games.

The seventh-seeded Pole fended off three break points in the fourth game, but Djokovic angled a challenging pass that left a sliding Hurkacz vulnerable to a fourth break point. Spreading the court shrewdly, Djokovic pushed the Pole out of position then spun a forehand winner down the line scoring his fourth break in Hurkacz’s last five service games for 3-1.

Djokovic backed up that break breezing through his 10th game in the last 11 played for 4-1.

Serving at 4-2, Djokovic double-faulted, heard cheers from some fans at the miscue and sarcastically applauded that etiquette breach before confronting break point. Hurkacz, who had been hurt by his own forehand misfires, cracked a forehand down the line earning his first break since the eighth game of the opening set to get back on serve at 3-4.

Attacking behind a forehand, Djokovic drew a netted pass ending a 25-shot rally for match point. The top seed had a good look at a stretched backhand pass, but his drive clipped the tape and went wide. Hurkacz held strong leveling the deciding set after 10 games.

Hurkacz thumped an ace to force the tiebreaker after two hours, six minutes. "Novak is such a great player, great competitor. I mean, he's won so many titles throughout his whole career," Hurkacz said. "He's just, you know, super solid in the very important moments. His return is really amazing.

"So just puts a lot of pressure on you. I always have to fight for every single point. It's very, very intense."

Miami Open champion Hurkacz spun a sliding wide serve to even the breaker at 5-all.

A difference in this match was Djokovic’s skill finishing with the forehand—and Hurkacz’s struggles to do the same. Hurkacz jumped on a mid-court ball, but flattened a forehand into net to face a second match point 16-and-a-half minutes after the first.

Hurkacz, who was 18 of 27 at net, lifted a backhand volley into the corner, which was called out. A momentary dramatic delay before replay showed the ball had landed wide sparked Djokovic’s historic leap.

The man who spent much of his career chasing records of Big 3 rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal now stands alone as year-end No. 1 for the ages.


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