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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, November 18, 2022

 
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Novak Djokovic out-dueled Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(2) in a wild three hour, 11-minute thriller to remain undefeated at the ATP Finals.

Photo credit: Getty

Five-time ATP Finals champion Novak Djokovic speaks five languages.

A fearless Djokovic showed fighting fluency in Turin today.

Nadal: I'm Going to Die For It

In a clash of former world No. 1 players, Djokovic showed fierce spirit out-dueling Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(2) in a wild three hour, 11-minute thriller.




Sucking in deep gulps of air, Djokovic looked down and nearly out when Medvedev fought through a 16-minute game to break for the first time for a 5-4 lead.

For the second time this tournament, Medvedev failed to serve out the match and paid a steep price.

Unleashing the warrior within, Djokovic fought off fatigue and Medvedev in an energized end to a physically-punishing match.

The seventh-seeded Serbian broke back and played a dynamic tiebreaker defeating Medvedev for the third time in a row to take an 8-4 lead in their head-to-head series.

"It's a battle. It's a fight," Djokovic said in his on-court ATP interview. "I'm really proud of being able to kind of find the last drop of energy and focus necessary in order to come back into the match.

"You know, from being 5-4 down, he was serving for it, I don't know, I just managed to read his serve, anticipate well that game, got myself back in a good position. Then started off very well in the tiebreaker. First six points it was crucial to just hang in there."




Continuing his quest for a sixth year-end title, Djokovic ends round-robin play with a 3-0 record and a lucrative payday in sight.

If Djokovic, who is 5-0 lifetime vs. semifinal opponent Taylor Fritz, takes the title undefeated, he will earn an ATP record $4,740,300 champion's check.

Two years ago, Medvedev powered to the 2020 Nitto Finals title with 5-0 record scoring wins over then No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and third-ranked Dominic Thiem becoming the only man in tournament history to beat the world's top three-ranked players.

In a disjointed season, Top 10 wins have eluded Medvedev for 10 months. Since the trauma of squandering a two-set lead and bowing to Rafael Nadal in a riveting Australian Open final last January, Medvedev has gone 0-8 vs. Top 10 opponents and ends the season with a 3-8 mark vs. the Top 10 and on a four-match losing skid overall.

Afterward, Medvedev, who is a commanding server when he's on his game, summed up his ability to close simply "I sucked." 

"Super easy: I sucked, so...that's what happened," Medvedev said. "It's disaster. What I'm really happy is that this match didn't count in going out of the group, otherwise I would have two matches where I lost serving for the match.

"At least this one didn't count. But, yeah, that's awful. I'm going to try to be better next time. I have no other choice."

A extremely talented, intelligent player, Medvedev put himself in position to win, but failed to adjust to Djokovic repeatedly whipping the wide slice serve on the deuce side to either set up the serve and volley or a first-strike forehand. Credit Djokovic for serving with such precision under pressure—and for asserting aggression when it most mattered. Djokovic won 36 of 44 nets points—Medvedev was 14 of 28 at net—and saved five of six break points.

Still, it's a bit mind-boggling Medvedev didn't take a few steps to his right when Djokovic's toss went up or even show the Serbian different looks with his return position.

Tennis Express

Nineteen minutes into the match, chair umpire Mohamed Layhani pressed pause briefly as the video advertising wall wrapping the court when on the fritz. Djokovic came out playing some low backhand slice to challenge the 6'6" Russian to pick up ankle-high replies. Scooping a low backhand volley off his shoelaces, Medvedev leveled after four games.




Son Stefan Djokovic was dancing in front of his seat after his famous father breezed through a second straight love hold for 3-2.

Continuing to make Medvedev dig out low balls, Djokovic earned break point in the sixth game. Medvedev erased it and held firm.

One game later, Djokovic double-faulted to face a first break point. A short-angled forehand that crept over the net saved it.

Neither man was in full flow, but Djokovic again threatened the Russian's serve in the eighth game. Successive errors helped Djokovic forge the first break for 5-3.




The five-time champion bolted a backhand down the line sealing the opening set in 47 minutes—and winning his fifth set in as many played this week.

Confronting break point in the third game of set two, Medvedev dug in and repelled everything Djokovic threw at him, winning a 28-shot exchange to save break point. Medvedev staved off stress holding for 2-1.

When Djokovic dug in to play his acrobatic brand of defiant defense, Medvedev couldn't create court openings. A tame drop shot sat up and the Serbian swooped in to snap a backhand winner for break point in the ninth game.

Unleashing a heavy serve and some ballistic forehand strikes, Medvedev had a lunging Djokovic in such frenzied pursuit the Serbian lost his grip on the handle sending his Head racquet flying. Medvedev stood tall holding for 5-4.

Djokovic, who wears contact lenses, called for the trainer to apply some solution to his eyes then left the court for a few minutes.

Staring down a set point on his return, Djokovic saved it with a serve-and-volley, but stuck a forehand into net giving Medvedev a second set point. Djokovic drilled his fifth ace down the middle to draw even at deuce only to spray his trusty two-hander well wide.




In a riveting 33-shot rally, Djokovic twice defended drives that pulled him wide of the sidelines then scorched a short-angled forehand winner that left the crowd buzzing and Medvedev looking a little dazed.

The fourth seed pushed the Wimbledon winner to the brink, but Djokovic delivered even bolder strikes beneath set-point pressure pulling even at 5-all.

Stumbling at the start of the tiebreaker, Medvedev tried to serve-and-volley, but netted a backhand volley to cede the mini break on the first point. The lanky Russian carved out a drop shot to get the mini break right back. An excellent, extended exchange saw Medvedev use his backhand to bully Djokovic into a stretched error for 3-2.

The 35-year-old Djokovic leaned over to touch his ankles and take some deep gulps of breath. Residual fatigue from that draining point compelled a double fault as Medvedev edged ahead 4-2.

A net-cord shot dribbled over forcing the Russian forward. Djokovic lofted a lob to elicit the error to regain the mini break for 4-5. Djokovic was in prime position for a forehand volley, but inexplicably played it right back at Medvedev who fired a pass the Serbian could not handle for set point at 6-5.

When Djokovic pushed a backhand into the net, Medvedev snatched the second set to force a decider after one hour, 57 minutes.




During the changeover, a drained Djokovic buried his face in his towel with his right arm shaking from the 70-minute second set. Djokovic leaned over on his court-side seat and leaned his forehand against his racquet like a weary world-traveler clutching a cane for support.

How much would the former No. 1 have left in the tank for the third set?

A flushed-faced Djokovic did his best to shorten points serving-and-volleying at times, driving the ball closer to the lines and deploying drop shots building a 3-2 lead in the final set.

Tuning into the serving muse, Medvedev was hammering heavy serves, slamming his 12th ace to help cap a love hold for 3-3.

Two-and-a-half hours into the match, Djokovic put a low return that handcuffed the Russian for the first break point of the set. Medvedev calmly cranked an ace to save it then cracked his 14th ace to even it after eight games.

Tension tightened like a tourniquet at 4-4. In an eight-deuce game, Djokovic squandered several game points, saved a break point with a forehand winner, but missed the sideline to face a second break point.

The serve-and-volley saved Djokovic a couple of times in the game, but he couldn't create closure serving to the ad side.

In a 16-minute test of will and skill, Medvedev kept making the Serbian play and it paid off. Djokovic jerked a forehand wide to end the struggle handing the Russian his first break.

Waving his arms to exhort Turin fans, Medvedev walked to his chair with a 5-4 lead and a shot to serve out his first win over Djokovic since the 2021 US Open final.

Djokovic was not done.

The former No. 1 fired a pair of forehands to go up 0-30, Medvedev double faulted to face double break point then Djokovic caressed a backhand drop volley breaking back.

"Novak is a league of his own, that's for sure, with Rafa and Roger," Medvedev said. "Then it's the rest. Maybe one moment somebody's going to try to catch them number of slams or whatever, then we going to talk about different.

"I definitely don't put myself in there. We had some tough battles. He's leading in head-to-head, even if I won some important matches. Yeah, that's all I can say.

"Yeah, I definitely, definitely not close to Novak. Maybe when we play, yes, but in general you cannot compare myself to him or any one of the big three."

Though Medvedev has improved his volley, his net play is a work in progress. Trying to serve and volley, Medvedev was met by a loopy pass that elicited a wild miss on a high backhand volley as Djokovic got the mini break for 2-0.

Tormenting his opponent with the wide-serve again, Djokovic knifed a fine volley for 4-1.

On his first match point, Djokovic slashed a rousing forehand strike down the line with an extended grunt that grew into a triumphant scream.

Djokovic raised a clenched fist to coach Goran Ivanisevic who threw a fist and a smile right back as his charge pounded his palm off his chest after a heart-racing win.

How quickly can Djokovic recover from such a grueling physical test? We'll find out soon enough.

Bring on the weekend!


 

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