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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, November 20, 2022

 
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Novak Djokovic beat Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-3 to complete an undefeated week capturing his sixth ATP Finals championship—and a tennis record $4,740,300 pay day.

Photo credit: Marco Bertorello/Getty

Elite players change the pace.

A dominant Novak Djokovic altered the entire place.

More: Tsitsipas Disses Rublev

Djokovic hit snaking serves, smacked shattering drives and played demoralizing defense leaving Casper Ruud looking dazed and the Torino sign behind the baseline looking a bit misleading.

Reclaiming the ATP Finals hard court as his own treasured turf, Djokovic served up another eviction notice with a historic 91st career championship today.

The 35-year-old Djokovic dismissed Ruud 7-5, 6-3 in the Turin final to make history as the oldest-ever ATP Finals champion—and equal Roger Federer's record capturing his sixth year-end crown.




The seventh-seeded Serbian capped an outstanding tournament that saw him post a perfect 5-0 record, repel a slew of younger Top-10 ranked opponents, beat back exhaustion in a three-hour thrilling win over Daniil Medvedev on Friday and add to his legacy earning a tennis record $4,740,300 champion's check.

Asked if he's the best player in the world, Djokovic replied "I'm not. I'm fifth."

Then came clarity as Djokovic provided insight into his outlook. 

"This week I probably am [the best]," Djokovic said. "Overall the rankings are showing who had the best year, and Alcaraz is the No. 1 in the world. Not much to say about that.

"But in my mind I always see myself as the best player in the world, of course. I have that kind of mentality and that kind of approach. Regardless of who is across the net, regardless of what the surface is, regardless of what season it is, what number of the professional season in my career we're facing, I mean, it's always the same. The ambitions are as high as possible."

It is Djokovic's first ATP Finals crown since 2015 and caps one of the most challenging years of his career.

Last January, an unvaccinated Djokovic was deported from Australia denying his shot to defend his AO championship. His unvaccinated status meant the former world No. 1 missed two of the four Grand Slams—and four Masters 1000 tournaments. Additionally, the ATP and WTA stripping Wimbledon of ranking points in response to the grass-court Grand Slam banning Russians and Belarusians meant Djokovic gained zero ranking points for winning his seventh Wimbledon last July.

Despite all the chaotic controversy and self-inflicted wounds, Djokovic stayed disciplined and true to himself and now thrust himself back near the top of tennis.

"It feels deeply satisfying and at the same time huge relief because of the circumstances that I have been through this year, situations earlier this year of course with Australia," Djokovic said. "We don't need to go back. We know what happened.

"That had an effect obviously on my start of the year. For the first several months, I was trying to find that balance game-wise but also mentally in order to be able to come back to the court and find that tennis level that I need."

Capturing this title and 1,500-ranking points for going undefeated vaults Djokovic back up to No. 5 in the live rankings within striking distance of the top should he reclaim his Australian Open title next January.

"Congrats to Novak, to you and your team, I can't imagine how difficult this year has been for you at times," Ruud said. "So hats off to you for what you have overcome and for what you have achieved.

"It's been nothing but remarkable, really really impressive. So congratulations for showing everyone you're still up there, still finishing this year in a great way." Tennis Express



Contesting his eighth ATP Finals title match, Djokovic won the toss, elected to serve and stamped a solid hold to open. Djokovic carried a 3-0 record against the Norwegian onto the blue court sweeping all six sets they played on Italian soil.

A jittery Ruud put himself under pressure failing to land first serves and producing a pair of early forehand misses to face double break point. Ruud found his first serve and forehand to heal self-inflicted wounds and hold.

Across the net, Djokovic was coping with the effects of fatigue or whatever had been plaguing him in recent matches. Djokovic looked depleted in his 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(2) round-robin win over Daniil Medvedev on Friday. During that three-hour, 11-minute duel, Djokovic's right arm started shaking almost uncontrollably at one point.

Today, Djokovic was methodical between points as he posted a love hold for 3-2.

The third-seeded Ruud badly bungled a forehand volley to face a third break point in the eighth game. Ruud recovered again, hammering some first serves that helped him hold to even at 4-4.

Throughout the set, Djokovic was more effective stepping into the court, driving the ball deep down the middle and robbing Ruud of reaction time. Djokovic drove his fifth ace down the middle wrapping his second love hold for 5-4.

The 12th game was a prime example of Djokovic reading the moment and rising to meet it.




Sidestepping to his right, Djokovic rocketed a forehand winner down the line that stuck off the sideline prompting applause from Ruud. Djokovic correctly challenged a Ruud first serve that was called good. Replay showed it landed long. Working off the Norwegian's second serve, Djokovic dissected Ruud's weaker backhand wing drawing the netted slice for a set point.


Unloading a barrage of diagonal forehands into Ruud's backhand, Djokovic battered that wing until it broke on the 19th stroke capping the 52-minute opening set with the lone break. Djokovic served 72 percent, won 24 of 29 points played on his serve and consistently took the ball earlier than his opponent.

The bad news for Ruud, Djokovic was 30-2 when winning the first set this season. The worse news: Djokovic took his seventh straight set from the Roland Garros runner-up.



The fourth-ranked Ruud could have clinched the year-end No. 2 ranking behind world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz if he won this ATP Finals title. Credit Ruud for an outstanding season that has seen him post 51 wins, capture three titles and reach finals at Roland Garros, the US Open and Miami Open.

All nine of Ruud's titles have come at the 250-level and today's defeat drops him to 9-21 vs. Top 10 opponents. One reason is Ruud's two-hander, while certainly improved, is not as imposing at Top 3-opponens and another is though Ruud has sharpened his transition game, he concedes there's still much room for improvement in his net play.

Djokovic's all-court acumen and flat strikes pose problems for Ruud as well as the rest of the ATP Tour.

"Obviously him and I, we play a little bit different tennis. He plays more flat than myself," Ruud said. "I think that can be a challenge sometimes. I felt it today.

"I was not really able to play the shots that I wanted to or - what should I say - take control of the game because he keeps playing with good depth, flat shots that kind of skid off the court, which are tough to attack. I hope that I can learn how to play this way indoor.

"Technically I'm not perfect at all. Many things I can improve technically. But my base as a tennis player has improved a lot this last year. But there are many things that I can improve, many things that I still find uncomfortable, shots that I don't feel comfortable hitting, especially maybe moving forward, coming to the net. All in all I think I can improve all parts of my game, which is a good thing."




A missed volley from Ruud and a flurry of forehands from Djokovic set up a brilliant forehand strike down the line. That superb sequence helped the Wimbledon champion break at 15 for 3-1. Djokovic charged through 12 of 14 points extending his lead to 4-1.

Prevailing in a 36-shot rally, Djokovic reached championship point and waved his arms exhorting fans.




Pausing before serving, Djokovic gazed up at the toss and tomahawked his sixth ace down the middle completing a declarative tournament with an exclamation point and a hug from daughter Tara and son Stefan.


 

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