'Brave' Sinner Downs Djokovic, Nears Turin SFs

'Brave' Sinner Downs Djokovic, Nears Turin SFs
By: ATP World Tour Posted On: November 14, 2023 View: 60

With heavy backing from the Italian crowd at the Nitto ATP Finals, Jannik Sinner earned a dramatic victory against Novak Djokovic for his first Lexus ATP Head2Head win in four tries against the Serbian. The 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-6(2) result improved Sinner to 2-0 this week in Turin and put him in command of the Green Group — though his qualification for the knockout semi-final stage is not yet confirmed.

Djokovic spent much of the three-hour, nine-minute matchup battling back from behind, but he had no answer for Sinner's lightning start to the decisive tie-break. Long after he won nine straight points to snatch the opening set, breaking from 40/0 before a love hold, Sinner surged ahead in the final tie-break with five consecutive points, hitting huge ground strokes in the face of extreme pressure to build what proved to be an unassailable lead.

"It's part of the process. I feel that I'm a little bit more confident in certain moments in a match," Sinner said of his performance in the clutch moments. "I think I was really brave and intelligent in important moments, especially the third set. I felt like we were both serving really well so there were not so many exchanges, but when the exchanges were played we both played really well.

"That was a really high-level match."

In an eventful third set, Sinner led 4-2 — ripping a forehand return winner to break — but was pegged back immediately as Djokovic broke serve for the first time in the match. There would be no comeback in the tie-break, as Sinner sent the crowd to fever pitch with victory before receiving a warm embrace from his opponent at net.

In the pair's first hard-court meeting, Sinner's brilliant ball-striking ended Djokovic's 19-match winning streak, which dated back to his Cincinnati title run. The Italian's career-best season now includes 59 match wins — the most by an Italian in the Open Era — and a 10-5 record against the Top 10. Sinner also improved to 15-1 indoors for 2023 by earning his second victory against a reigning World No. 1; he also beat then-No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the Miami semis earlier this season.

"I think the main difference is that in the important points, he was going for it, he was more courageous," Djokovic said of his opponent. "He deserved to win because in important moments I wasn't aggressive enough, I wasn't decisive enough. I gave him the opportunity to take the control over the points. At 5-all in third set, 15/30, second serve, I was in the rally and should have stepped in and didn't, and he did.

"You have to just congratulate him. He just played a fantastic match. That's what I told him at the net. I think in the most important moments, he played his best game and he absolutely deserved to win."

In addition to stellar serving from both players, who combined for 35 aces, Sinner also found joy with his variety when he wasn't hitting at full tilt. He often mixed in drop shots to keep Djokovic guessing, and when the Serbian approached the net on his own terms, Sinner's uncanny ability on the stretch led to several stunning passing-shot winners.

"It means a lot to me," Sinner said of beating Djokovic for the first time. "When you win against the World No. 1, who has won 24 Grand Slams, it's obviously in the top [of my career results]... I felt like it was a really tactical match and I managed to win, so I'm very happy."

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Djokovic, who applauded his opponent's play on several occasions, dropped to 1-1 in Turin with the defeat but still remains in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals. He will close out his round-robin campaign against Hubert Hurkacz on Thursday, with the Pole coming in as an alternate to Stefanos Tsitsipas (back injury). Sinner will meet Holger Rune as he seeks to finish 3-0 in the group.

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