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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, November 15, 2021


Novak Djokovic overcame a first-set fall with sharp serving conquering Casper Ruud 7-6(4), 6-2 in his ATP Finals opener.

Photo credit: Getty

Resilience is one of Novak Djokovic’s vital resources.

Crashing to the court in an opening game fall, Djokovic rose with resolve in an impressive Turin debut.

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World No. 1 Djokovic overcame that first-set fall with sharp serving conquering Casper Ruud 7-6(4), 6-2 in his ATP Finals opener.

The top seed celebrated his spirited uprising with heavy lifting—after the match Djokovic raised the shiny silver trophy commemorating his record-setting seventh season-ending world No. 1 ranking.

The 34-year-old Serbian broke the record he shared with his tennis hero, Pete Sampras, after unleashing a superb serving performance that would make Pistol Pete smile.

Djokovic served 74 percent with 10 aces against no double faults and won an impressive 35 of 39 points played on his first serve. After dropping serve in his opening game, Djokovic held at love in five of his next nine service games wrapping up his 39th career ATP Finals win to go to the top of the Green Group in 90 minutes. 

"Feels amazing, and obviously feels even better when you win a match and you get your hands on that trophy that I have been blessed to lift for seven times now in my career, one more than Pete Sampras, who was my childhood hero. He was the one that got me going with tennis," Djokovic said. "You know, the first time I watched a tennis match was—I have said this before—it was his Wimbledon finals, I think '91 or '92, and, you know, he always was an inspiration to me and kind of dreamt of being a Wimbledon champion and No. 1 in the world like he is.

"Kind of fast-forward to today, it's amazing to be in this position. I'm very grateful."

Contesting his 14th ATP Finals, Djokovic improved to 13-1 in openers with his lone loss coming to David Ferrer in his 2007 tournament debut.

ATP Finals debutant Ruud showed no shred of nerves at the outset.

An eventful opening game saw Ruud pull off a tweener then lash a diagonal forehand winner for break point. Moving near the service line, Djokovic tumbled, fell to the court, but still managed to pick up his racquet, regain his feet and extend the point. All that scrambling ended when Djokovic netted a shot as the debutant broke to open.

Ruud confirmed the break for 2-0.

Showing the serve-and-volley at times as he did dethroning defending champion Daniil Medvedev in the Rolex Paris Masters final, Djokovic worked his way back into the set with aggression—and a little help from Ruud.

The eighth-seeded Norwegian double-faulted back the break in the sixth game. Djokovic slashed an ace backing up the break with a love hold for 4-3 at the 26-minute mark.

Both men exploited the speed of the blue hard court to dictate on first serve. Djokovic fired his fourth ace down the T holding for 5-4.

Tennis Express

An acrobatic Djokovic’s defiant defense drew an errant forehand for set point. Djokovic had a good look at a spinny second serve but pushed a backhand return into net.

Jaw-dropping Djokovic defense earned a second set point. Sprinting to his right, Ruud flicked a forehand pass to save it. That shot pumped Ruud up as he pumped successive aces ending a nine-minute hold with a bang to level after 10 games.

A backhand down the line set up a fine drop volley as Ruud held to force the tiebreaker.

Djokovic worked over Ruud’s backhand eliciting the error for two more set points at 6-4. On his third set point, Djokovic drilled a forehand down the line capping a quality 61-minute set.

The Wimbledon winner served 62 percent with six aces against no double faults and won 20 of 21 first-serve points. Ruud played an excellent set as well—he hit 15 winners, two more than his opponent—and stayed in step right up until 4-all in the breaker before Djokovic dented his backhand seizing the opening set.

"It's tough, because he reads the game very well. He's always kind of positioning himself very, very well," Ruud said. "Even though you feel like you have an easy ball and that you should put it away, he always gets there because he's very quick obviously, but also because he reads the game well. Some crucial points, he usually steps up, and that's why he's No. 1 in the world.

"You could see it again today. I had 4-3 in the tiebreak, not the biggest chance in my life, but, you know, still some chances here and there. Then he steps up and plays four very good points. That pretty much sums up the first set."

All that good work Ruud did in the first set gave way to lapse in the opening game of the second set. Squeezing court space, Djokovic defended energetically, Ruud caught the tape with a forehand down the line as the Serbian scored his second break to start the second set.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who withstood some slips and slides that left him staring at the bottom of his Asics shoes, stepped into a new pair of kicks and put his foot down. Djokovic threw down his seventh ace—and third game-ending ace of the match—confirming the break for 2-0.

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The five-time champion cracked a forehand winner down the line for another break point. When Ruud over-played his forehand, Djokovic gained his third break for 4-1.

"Overall a quite fast court, I would say," Ruud said. "You can see it on the serves especially, because I'm not usually, you know, the guy to serve too many aces, but today I think I had nine maybe aces against Djokovic, who was returning very well, and he had also many aces.

"I think serve is a very important shot here when it's a court like this, and it's tough to kind of get a very, very good feeling of the court when it's this fast. It's one of the faster courts of the year, I think, but that's how it is. It's okay. I obviously wish it was a bit slower, I can honestly say, but in the end it's the same for my opponent."

A delicate serve-and-volley closed Djokovic’s fourth love hold for 5-1.


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