Novak Djokovic’s resurrection in the ATP Finals: too powerful to be held back by the U-23
Tennis paradoxes in the atypical format of the ATP Finals with round-robin: thanks to Jannik Sinner, Djokovic qualified for the semifinals. Both advanced to the final, and there the Serb repaid the Italian for the favor with a resounding 6-3, 6-3 defeat in front of the Turin crowd.
“It was one of the best seasons I’ve ever had in my life. I’m very proud of the level I showed against (Carlos) Alcaraz and Sinner. I had to go propose my game, be a protagonist and not wait for them. I had to raise the level and that gave me very good results”, said the Serb after the match.
When Djokovic is resurrected, he comes back hungrier and showing better tennis. The 24-time Grand Slam champion was not going to join the Carota Boys – Sinner’s fan club – to root for the Italian to beat Holger Rune in the group stage, the only way he would stay stay alive in the tournament. He had resigned himself to thinking about Davis Cup and the challenge he faces with Serbia starting this Tuesday in Malaga . “No, I will not be his fan. I won’t even watch the match,” he said. He had a better reason to invest the time: his children came to see him in northern Italy.
“I wanted to get competitive at an age when my children were aware of what I was doing,” said the world number one, about to close an exceptional 2023. In addition to winning his seventh Masters Tournament crown (and breaking the tie with Roger Federer), he was just one match away from completing the Grand Slam, won two Masters 1000 (Cincinnati and Paris Bercy) and made the year-end number one for the eight time.
In a tournament where the average age of his competitors was 25 years old, the 36-year-old tennis player continued to extend his records. Sinner’s great professionalism (and the desire to lift the trophy undefeated in front of his people) led him to give his best against the Dane, and thus open the doors to Djokovic in the stages of the tournaments where he performs best. Djokovic learned from the defeat against Sinner in the round-robin debut and declared before the final, just after crushing Alcaraz: “I know how the crowd behaves, and today I played the best match of the tournament”.
Simple equation in the semifinal and final against the two referents of the young generation: 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. The fast indoor court is Djokovic’s absolute domain. This was recognized by Alcaraz. “I will forget the Wimbledon and Cincinnati matches and focus on this one. Because I realized how far I am from him and all the things I have left to improve,” the world number two stated.
The Serb’s service game seems to be at its peak. Here’s a fact: two of his three best-of-three-set matches with the most aces in his career have occurred this month. He moves fast and takes the ball at a good tempo, with perfect acceleration. Added to that is the power of his mind, and the ability to show the best of his repertoire in the crucial moments. Also he masters how to cool down the moments when his rivals are on fire. Nothing new, but something that the younger players will have to figure out if they do not want to fight only for the number two spot in 2024. A season that, by the way, Djokovic will have no restrictions as he did in 2022 and 2023 (in March he could not play Indian Wells and Miami).
Sinner, meanwhile, grew a lot in the season, finally managed to get into the top 5 (as no Italian had done since Adriano Panatta) and will be next year a serious contender to win more major titles.
That is, if he doesn’t run into Djokovic’s version of this Sunday at Palasport Olimpico in Turin.
The world number one who may not be as explosive as he used to be, but who is experiencing more and more finals against different players and different audiences. Who knows the different levels of pressure, and that the more he faces his opponents, the better he understands how to handle them.