Novak Djokovic storms Carlos Alcaraz to earn ATP Finals decider with Sinner
For much of this season, Carlos Alcaraz was the only player who faced Novak Djokovic as an equal deep in the biggest tournaments around the world. But while the pair have combined to create numerous sublime classics and Alcaraz has enjoyed an incredible year in his own right, in the end Djokovic still stands alone.
On Saturday evening in Turin, the world No 1 underlined his undisputed status as the best player in the world by producing an incredible performance as he picked Alcaraz apart with ease 6-3, 6-2 to reach his ninth final at the ATP Finals. If he wins it will be his seventh title.
The last significant meeting of the ATP season will therefore be decided by a fascinating rematch as Djokovic faces his conqueror in the group stages, Jannik Sinner. The Italian continued his incredible form by beating Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-1 to reach the biggest final of his young career.
In a regular knockout tournament, the top two players would not face each other in the semi-finals. Their presence at this juncture was a consequence of Djokovic very nearly being dumped out in the group stages before qualifying in second place behind Sinner.
As has been so often the case in Djokovic’s career, though, when it truly mattered, he was right there. The opening set between the two best players in the world was played at a rapid, breathless pace with both striking the ball cleanly and attacking without hesitation.
Djokovic was simply playing at a higher level, though. With Alcaraz serving at 3-4, the Serb neutralised his opening salvo and as the rallies lengthened, he relentlessly targeted Alcaraz’s backhand until it broke down. With the break secured, Djokovic brilliantly served out the set.
Down a set and a break with defeat fast approaching, Alcaraz made his last stand. He threw everything he had into Djokovic’s service game at 2-3, offering himself a lifeline by reaching double break point with a series of powerful forehands. From 15-40 down, Djokovic responded by lifting his level into the stratosphere. He saved the second break point with a sublime forehand cross-court winner after a high-octane 23-stroke rally before closing out an astonishing hold. With Alcaraz’s morale shattered, Djokovic quickly marched to victory.
In the end, Djokovic’s celebration was muted after the victory itself said it all. This has been an outstanding season for Alcaraz. He backed up his first breakthrough, maintained his spot at No 2 and remains a worthy competitor for the No 1 ranking at 20 years old. But for now, even after all of these years, Djokovic is better.
In almost every other scenario this year, with Alcaraz out of the tournament and Djokovic competing at such a high level, the 36-year-old would be the overwhelming, prohibitive favourite to win it all. Yet the main character of this tournament so far was already waiting for him in the final.
Sinner arrived in Turin after an incredible autumn run that earned him two titles and a rise to a career-high ranking of world No 4. In front of a home crowd, the 22-year-old has only built more momentum as he plotted his path to the final with an unbeaten 4-0 record. Sinner has not only paired his blistering, perfectly timed groundstrokes with an increasingly three-dimensional game, but he has also found the mental toughness and decisiveness that has sometimes evaded him.
Beating Djokovic in a significant tournament is one of the ultimate achievements in modern men’s tennis career, yet somehow Sinner has tasked himself with an even tougher challenge.
After beating Djokovic 7-5, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2) and then ensuring that the top seed would reach the semi-finals by virtue of defeating Holger Rune in three sets on Thursday night, in order to close out the tournament of his dreams, Sinner must become the only player in history to defeat Djokovic in singles twice in the same tournament.