Novak Djokovic advances to his ninth semi-final in London. Alexander Zverev remains trapped in a personal dilemma, although he might be relieved to be out of the ATP Tour Finals as questions about his ex-girlfriend Olya Sharypova’s abuse allegations continue to haunt him.
His tug of war on day six was a tense and uneven affair, and five-time champion Djokovic prevailed with his ingrained knack of overcoming series crises to win 6-3, 7-6 (4) in one hour and 36. minutes.
The world number one was pleased with his performance, and between bursts of ordinary tennis, there were stretches of excellence from both. Djokovic, who lost to Zverev in the 2018 final, beat him for the fourth time in six games, although a second look at the tape before he faces world number 3 Dominic Thiem on Saturday would not be in vain.
Almost inevitably, the emphasis shifted from tennis to off-court noise. When asked how other players had reacted to him, Zverev said: “They are all good for me. The relationship between the players and me will not change. The players know what is happening. I’ve said everything I can. It is very unfortunate that these types of false accusations can cause so much damage and divert attention from the sport. But it is the world we live in now, unfortunately. There’s nothing else I can do. “
Djokovic, who has been nominated to return to the ATP players council and is regarded as something of a moral guide in the sport, provided qualified support. “I have not noticed that they have treated him differently in the locker room, but I have not spoken with him about that specific case,” he said. “I told you I’m here if you need to talk. He’s been handling it well, from the looks of his results. I sincerely hope you get over this soon. “
As for tennis, Djokovic said immediately after: “I felt great. At the beginning of the first set, he had three or four chances but, unlike my last match against Daniil [Medvedev], I found the right shots at the right time. He’s a great player, he serves 140 mph. It was anyone’s game. In the tie-break I read his approach at 4-3 and got the game out ”.
Djokovic got off to a near perfect start, winning nine of the first 10 points as he raced to 3-0 before having to wipe his forehead. Zverev briefly struggled to control his serve until a loving hug calmed his shaking right arm.
The rallies dragged on and the level rose appreciably, although it took Zverev 20 minutes to find his rhythm, a second ace lifted his spirits, as did two break points in the pivotal seventh game. Djokovic’s tennis slipped a bit and he had to hold the two with a controlled smash for 5-2. Zverev kept the set alive with his third ace before Djokovic, who had lost his previous certainty, served nervously in the 33rd minute.
Zverev, having reestablished his credentials behind improved serve, hit a pair of aces and a double fault to hold out at the start of the second set, which lasted twice as long as the first. Djokovic, who had skipped the Paris Masters to be fresh for this tournament, was briefly subdued, his groundstrokes faltering, his feet not so agile. A third double fault gave Zverev a break point in the fourth game, but he couldn’t cash in after a prolonged battle of two.
Zverev was hitting hard and deep, but couldn’t make the most of his opportunities. Consecutive double faults in the fifth game turned the pressure to an end; He saved two break points, one with another ace, and held on shakily to stay ahead of the duty cycle shortly before the hour.
They toiled to the tiebreaker and Djokovic rediscovered his focus, though his relief when Zverev pushed his last shot into the net was evident in his ritual of homage to the (empty) arena.
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