Novak Djokovic will live to fight another day at the ATP Finals and his children will get to watch him play, after Jannik Sinner's win over Holger Rune meant he qualified for the semi-finals. Djokovic's kids only arrived in Turin on Thursday night, but in a cruel twist it looked like Djokovic might not make the semis and his children would miss out.
The World No.1 bounced back from his first loss in four months, beating Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (7-1) 4-6 6-1 in his final group match in the first match on Thursday. That meant Djokovic finished with a 2-1 record following wins over Holger Rune and Hurkacz (who replaced an injured Stefanos Tsitsipas) and a shock loss to Jannik Sinner.
But his progression to the semis hinged on Sinner's later clash with Rune, and a Rune victory would have knocked Djokovic out. But Sinner managed to win a pulsating match 6-2 5-7 6-4, meaning he and Djokovic qualified for the semis.
If Rune had beaten Sinner, both players would've also been 2-1 but Djokovic would have been eliminated due to an inferior set win-loss ratio. But Sinner's win takes him to a perfect 3-0, while Rune misses out at 1-2.
Elimination would have come as a huge blow for 24-time grand slam champion Djokovic and would've meant his children Stefan and Tara didn't get to watch him play. "My kids are arriving tonight, so I don't think I'll watch," Djokovic said about the Sinner-Rune match. "I did my job and I'm going to spend tonight with the family. Then tomorrow I can worry about whether I qualified or not.
“If Jannik wins, I qualify. If he doesn't win, I will still end the season with a win and with my sights set on the Davis Cup. That's what I feel right now. I was focused on winning the match, so I did it. The result of tonight's match is not in my hands. It is what it is. I’m not really thinking about it. All I’m thinking about right now is hugging my kids."
Conversely, Djokovic would have been able to spend more time with his family if he hadn't made the finals. The Serbian star was beaten in three long sets by Sinner in his previous match - the 24-time major winner's first loss since he went down to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final in July.
In his opening match of the ATP Finals in Turin, Djokovic beat Rune to secure the year-end No.1 ranking for a record-extending eighth time. It also ensured he will become the first man in history to be World No.1 for 400 weeks.
Novak Djokovic says the result of Sinner & Rune isn’t in his hands, all he can think about is hugging his kids:
“If Jannik wins, I qualify. If he doesn't win, I will still end the season with a win & with my sights set on the Davis Cup. That's what I feel right now. I was… pic.twitter.com/gZPuDAwk3h
— The Tennis Letter (@TheTennisLetter) November 16, 2023
Novak Djokovic overcomes frustrations against Hubert Hurkacz
Djokovic appeared frustrated early against Hurkacz on Thursday when he had no answer to the Pole's big serve. But Hurkacz started to make a few errors and Djokovic won 10-straight points to jump out to a big lead in the tie-breaker.
Djokovic double-faulted to hand Hurkacz a break and a 3-2 lead in the second. Hurkacz then saved two break points with aces a couple of games later and continued to hold to close out the set as the pro-Sinner crowd chanted "Hu-bi, Hu-bi."
Hurkacz routinely sent down serves at 225 km/h and cranked out 24 aces to Djokovic's six. But the Serb broke to take control midway through the third and improved to 7-0 in his career against Hurkacz.
"He's got one of the biggest serves in world," Djokovic said. "It's very, very tough to return, especially here at an altitude of nearly 300 metres. I was waiting for chances when he missed his first serve - that was my only chance."
In the other group, Daniil Medvedev has already advanced to the semis with two wins from his first two matches. Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev have one win each, while Andrey Rublev is winless.
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