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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, November 19, 2022

 
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic rallied from a break down in the second set topping Taylor Fritz 7-6, 7-6 to reach the ATP Finals title match for the eighth time.

Photo credit: Shi Tang/Getty

Holistic healing has helped Novak Djokovic transform into one of tennis' fittest champions.

Down a break late in the second set, Djokovic administered creative antidote to Taylor Fritz in Turin today.

More: Tsitsipas Disses Rublev

A resilient Djokovic broke when Fritz served for the second set sparking a 7-6(5), 7-6(6) win that sends the Serbian into his eighth ATP Finals title match.




Undefeated this week, Djokovic stands one win from a record-tying sixth ATP Finals championship.

"So far a great week for me. Four out of four wins. Of course, the last match of the season, I'm going to give it all," Djokovic said. "I'm going to obviously try my best. I like the fact that I was able to win against Medvedev after a very long battle, then come back the next day after not too much time for recovery, be able to win another tight match against Fritz in two sets.

"That's something that has in a way defined my career over the years. I've had similar situations where I was able to bounce back and really make some big wins. I would love to, of course, win the trophy, but I'm not going to be the only player who is going to want that on the court. Hopefully I'll be able to play at the level that I've played most of the matches this week and get a trophy."

Coming off a draining three-hour triumph over Daniil Medvedev yesterday that left the seventh seed looking depleted and his right hand shaking nearly uncontrollably during one-changeover, the 35-year-old Djokovic showed deep desire and recovery power becoming the second-oldest finalist in tournament history. Djokovic is six days shy of Hall of Famer Arthur Ashe's age when he reached the 1978 final at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Yesterday, Djokovic broke Medvedev when he served for the match. Today, Djokovic dug in and broke Fritz for just the second time when the American served for the second set at 5-4. 

"I managed to break his serve at 5-4," Djokovic said. "He was serving for the set like Medvedev was serving for the match yesterday. Just in those moments, I guess I find another gear and manage to hold my nerves and to make him play an extra shot in the tiebreak."



Five-time champion Djokovic will face either Roland Garros and US Open finalist Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev in tomorrow's final. Djokovic throttled Rublev in round-robin play last week.

Bidding to become the oldest champion in tournament history, Djokovic is also chasing a couple of historic landmarks in Turin. If Djokovic takes the title tomorrow he will equal Roger Federer's record with his sixth year-end crown—and collect an ATP-record champion's check of  $4,740,300.

  Tennis Express

It was a well-played match from Fritz's side, too.

The 25-year-old Fritz gained entry into the field when world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz was forced out with a abdominal tear. Fritz made the most of his shot smacking 15 aces and hitting 10 more winners than Djokovic (31 to 21), but the seven-time Wimbledon winner backed up his second serve better and played some of his most proactive points amid tiebreaker pressure. 

The first American to contest the tournament semifinals since Jack Sock in 2017, Fritz hit himself into trouble in the fifth game. Djokovic's comprehensive court coverage shrinks open space. Fritz tried squeezing his forehand closer to the sidelines, but errors erupted as he missed a few forehands to face triple break point.

Mixing in some low slice backhands, Djokovic kept the American pinned deep with some off-pace shots then stepped in and smacked a forehand deep into the corner for the love break and a 3-2 lead.

The seventh-seeded Serbian sent a forehand into net to face break point in the next game. Djokovic steered a backhand wide as unforced error donations gifted the break back to Fritz in the sixth game. From love-30 down, Fritz snapped off forceful first serves holding for 4-3.

Forty-seven minutes into the match, Djokovic dotted the center stripe with his second ace to force the first-set tiebreaker.

The pair exchanged early mini breaks. Fritz fired his seventh ace for 5-4. Djokovic slid a forehand down the line for a set point at 6-5.

Playing primarily down the middle, Djokovic defended a deep Fritz forehand then surprised the American, scalding a forehand down the line to snatch a one-set lead with a bang.




Djokovic served 73 percent and won 23 of 27 first-serve points in the 56-minute set.

A crackling running forehand from Fritz elicited break points in the first game of set two. Fritz broke on a Djokovic error. Fritz backed up the break with his eighth ace for a 2-0 lead.

The eighth-seeded Fritz did a fine job of taking early leads in serve games and stretching them. Fritz threw down his 10th ace extending to 4-2.

A superb stretch drop volley followed by a high forehand volley helped Fritz surge ahead 5-3.




The Indian Wells champion was two points from breaking again to take the second set, but Djokovic read the direction of a Fritz crosscourt backhand and was waiting to whip his two-hander down the line. That shot helped him rally from 15-30 down to hold in the ninth game.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Fritz moved up to a mid-court ball, lined up his backhand but, distracted by some fool in the crowd screaming to pierce the silence, flattened the sitter into the net. Fritz waved his hand in frustration at the nosy imposition as Djokovic earned his second break point of the day.

Afterward, a philosophical Fritz said the screaming fan interference was frustrating, but part of the game.

"It one of those things," Fritz said. "It's like what can you do? If you make a rule that you can replay a point, then the guy is just going to yell when I'm about to win a point, then we're going to have to replay. It's just going to happen the reverse way.

"I can't expect anybody to be like, Replay the point. In that situation, I can't say that I would do that either. I can't expect anyone to do anything differently.

"I don't know. I don't know what to say. I think that's what makes it even more frustrating. It's like, you know, I kind of got screwed and there's nothing that really can be done about it.

"It's normal that the crowd maybe makes a noise when there's a crazy point going on. You expect it, you're ready for it. But someone just, like, flat-out screaming to purposely try to throw you off, it's not something you're ever used to. When it happens, it's an absolute shock. It's disgusting then."

Twenty-one time Grand Slam champion Djokovic locked in behind the baseline and played a suffocating point prompting the error to break back and level after 10 games.

Moments earlier, Fritz was a few points from a third set. Djokovic flipped the script, stamping a strong hold at 15 for a 6-5 lead.




Following an early exchange of mini breaks, Fritz prevailed in a rousing 25-shot rally that spanned all areas of the court and ended with the American soaring for a smash for 5-5.

Resetting, Djokovic responded with a direct attack blocking a backhand volley for match point. Fritz saved it, but Djokovic flashed a forehand swing volley for a second match point.

Working the point, Djokovic drew the forehand error defeating Fritz for the sixth time in as many meetings.




Celebration was pure child's play as Djokovic's kids, son Stefan and daughter Tara, ran out onto the blue court to give their famous father a hug. 


 

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