Novak Djokovic remained on track for a record-breaking sixth ATP Tour Finals title after beating Taylor Fritz 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6) in Turin on Saturday.
Djokovic shrugged off an unpleasant meeting with Daniil Medvedev the day before and took the lead in the semi-final against the ninth-seeded American.
The 35-year-old set up a meeting with Norway’s Kasper Ruud, who at 23 will be in contention for his first major title after beating Russia’s Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4 in the second semi-final in northern Italy.
The Serb has beaten world No. 4 Ruud in all three previous encounters, including this year’s semi-final in Rome.
Djokovic will be aiming for his second major title of the year since Wimbledon, having missed significant portions of the season, including the Australian Open and the US Open, due to his failure of the coronavirus vaccine.
“Of course, in the last match of the season I will give my all. Obviously, I will try my best,” said the Serb.
“I’m thrilled to be able to compete for another big trophy, one of the biggest in our sport.”
A victory in Sunday’s final would also put him on par with Roger Federer of six wins in a tournament that features eight of the world’s best players this season.
“I had to fight to survive,” said Djokovic, who has reached the final of the season finals eight times already and last won in 2015.
“I didn’t feel very reactive or very comfortable. I knew that after yesterday’s grueling battle with Medvedev before today’s match, it would take me some time to adjust and find the dynamic movement I needed against Fritz, who is one of the best servers. on Tour.
Fritz played in his first ATP final, replacing the injured world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
But the American was punished for his mistakes and suffered his sixth defeat in as many matches against Djokovic.
The Serb held on largely due to the efficiency of his serve and his ability to land the killing blow at just the right moment, with a stunning winning right hand to seal the first set in the tiebreak.
In the second set, Fritz served 5–4 to level the score in one set, but a wayward backhand into the net gave Djokovic a break point chance, which he took advantage of, sealing the victory after another tie-break.
“I think my conclusion is that when Novak played, he was the best player,” Fritz said.
“There is no doubt about that. When he wasn’t playing, which is most of the year, we saw a lot of different results because if you take him out of the equation, I think everyone else playing is very close.”
This year, Ruud has played in two Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros and the US Open, and is making his second appearance in the season-ending eight-player elite tournament after being knocked out in the semi-finals last year.
Ruud took advantage of the unsuccessful Rublev, who saw off Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Russian got off to a strong start, winning his first inning and dropping just a point in his second.
But as Ruud dug deeper to make it 2-2, Rublev exploded, missing eight games in a row, to the point of crying in the towel at the 3-0 second-set switch and sending signs of helplessness to his coach.
After 6-2, 4-0, he finally managed to hold on to the serve, but he paid for 23 unforced errors in total to eight for Ruud, whose only mistake was missing a serve while serving for the match before consolidate the victory in 69 minutes.
The Norwegian will claim his tenth ATP title and fourth this year behind Gstaad, Geneva and Buenos Aires, all on clay.
Djokovic, who has won 90 titles in his career, is chasing his fifth league title of the season after Rome, Wimbledon, Tel Aviv and Astana.
The Serbian now has a career record of 45-17 in the ATP finals he won in 2008 in Shanghai and 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 in London.
Sunday’s win will cost $4.7 million.