Clutch Djokovic defeats Rune at ATP Finals to secure year-end No 1 ranking

Novak Djokovic has ensured he’ll finish 2023 as the No 1 player in the world, defeating Holger Rune at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin

Novak_Djokovic_ATP_Finals_2023 Zuma / Panoramic
Nitto ATP Finals •group-stage • completed
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No 1 seed Novak Djokovic has defeated Denmark’s Holger Rune 7-6 (4), 6-7 (1), 6-3, on day one of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy.

The win sees Djokovic secure the year-end No 1 spot for the eighth time in his career, extending his record in the men’s game and moving ahead of Steffi Graf as the with the most year-end No 1 finishes. By finishing the year as world No 1, Djokovic also ensures that he will become the first player to cross 400 weeks at the top of the game.

In a repeat of the Rolex Paris Masters quarter-final clash between Djokovic and Rune just over a week ago, this was a hotly contested match. A high caliber of tennis was on show, with the Serbian coming up clutch when it counted to move into second place in the Green Group, behind Jannik Sinner on one victory.

Aggressive Rune takes on consistent Djokovic in marathon first set

While this was technically a clash between the highest and lowest ranked players in Turin this week, it felt far from it for the first hour and 11 minutes as the first set unfolded.

In fact, with the exception of a ten minute spell when Rune’s level dropped, the Dane looked like the better player across the opening 12 games. The 20-year-old came out swinging, playing ultra-aggressive tennis, standing on top of the baseline to return Djokovic’s serves and applying constant court pressure to the Serbian.

A handful of half chances passed, before Rune saw two break points on Djokovic’s third service game. The world No 1 saw these off in typical clinical fashion, before an uncharacteristic error gave Rune a third chance, which he did not miss. Up a break at 3-2, the set was Rune’s to lose.

And that he did, by dropping his level for a brief moment. Immediately Djokovic broke back then held to love, flipping the set on its head. However, Rune didn’t go away, taking the set to a tiebreak in a repeat of their Paris quarter-final match.

However, that is where the parallels cease, as this time it was Djokovic who dominated the tiebreak. Rune’s big-hitting began to unravel as the No 8 seed began missing, giving up 4-2 advantage at the break before Djokovic sealed the set with a Rune-esque forehand return off the Dane’s serve.

Copy paste in the second set, almost

In the second set, fans would be forgiven for thinking there had been a glitch in Turin, as a near exact replica of the first set unfolded in the early stages. 

Rune came out firing and quickly put Djokovic’s serve under pressure, grabbing a break in the second game to go up 2-0, before failing to consolidate and allowing his opponent to break right back. An easy hold by Djokovic saw the set level at 2-2, but there was a subtle feeling that the world No 1 was simply managing the match and navigating this one towards the finish line.

Again, Rune stemmed the rot and service holds were exchanged. The Dane was not without his chances, with Djokovic expertly dispatching threatening situations at 3-4, 30-30 and 4-5, 30-40, where he faced a set point.

As with the first, a tiebreak was once more required to split these two players. However, with defeat looking imminent, Rune raised his level, and Djokovic coughed up several uncharacteristic errors, with the Serbian falling behind 6-0 quickly in the tiebreak. Despite having won 29 tiebreakers in 2023, the second-most on the ATP Tour, this was one to forget for Djokovic, with Rune taking the breaker 7-1 to level the match.

With records in sight, Djokovic sprints to the finish

As with each of their preceding meetings, Djokovic v Rune headed to a deciding set.

However, with the year-end No 1 spot in sight, it was Djokovic who came up clutch in a final set that was far less competitive. The Serbian gained an early break, relinquished it briefly, then accelerated again to claim the set 6-3 and sit level with Jannik Sinner at the top of the Green Group at the Nitto ATP Finals.

With his victory over Rune securing his year-end No 1 ranking, Djokovic will now set his sights on breaking another record: his tie with Roger Federer for the most ATP Finals titles. Both men have won six, a stat that the Serbian would like to see change this Sunday.

“It’s huge. It means a lot obviously. I knew coming into the tournament here I needed only one win to clinch the year-end No 1,” Djokovic said after the match.

“It always has been a huge objective and huge goal of mine to be No 1 in the world. Other than Grand Slams, that’s what counts the most. To finish off the year as No 1 in the world at this stage of my life and career is something really amazing.”

The Green Group will have a day off tomorrow, before playing their second matches where Djokovic will be able to qualify for the semi-finals with a win, while Rune will be fighting to keep his title hopes alive.

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