Novak Djokovic survives ATP Finals scare as Jannik Sinner spares his blushes

Novak Djokovic advanced to the semi-final of the ATP Finals thanks to Jannik Sinner – the man who conquered him in a tight three-set match earlier in the week. After dropping a set to Hubert Hurkacz earlier on Thursday, the world No 1’s survival in the tournament hinged on Sinner beating Holger Rune. The match went down to the wire as Djokovic was just a couple of games from going out but the 22-year-old ultimately did his job, downing Rune 6-2 5-7 6-4.

Sinner took to the court in an unusual position, as his spot in the semi-final was confirmed. Instead it was Djokovic who was relying on the world No 4, as a Sinner victory would give the 36-year-old a spot in the semi-final but a Rune win would send the Dane to the semis and eliminate Djokovic. 

The 22-year-old’s spot in the last four was confirmed when Hurkacz won a set against Djokovic in Thursday afternoon’s singles match. It sparked some debate over whether Sinner should exert himself against Rune when his position was secure instead of saving his energy. Others pointed out that eliminating Djokovic by losing could help Sinner win the title in the long run, preventing another meeting in the final.

But the home favourite quickly shut down any suggestions that he wouldn’t be trying hard as he broke Rune in the opening game, with the Italian fans breaking out into chants of “ole Sinner”. The Italian kept on rolling as he secured the double break and raced into a 4-0 lead while a flustered Rune could be seen communicating with his team, urging them to push him on even more.

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There was nothing he could do while Sinner was putting on a sublime performance in front of his home crowd, however, hitting just three unforced errors in the first set as he sealed it 6-2 after 33 minutes.  Rune took a brief off-court break after losing the opener and was more like his usual self when he returned, managing to stay with Sinner and carving out his first break point.

But it was saved by the world No 4, who couldn’t convert an opportunity of his own in the following game. The Dane then called the physio to have strapping put just below his right knee. It was Sinner who appeared to be struggling physically as the second set neared the business end, however, as he continued to grab his back.

Having raised his level while Sinner’s dominance deteriorated, Rune pounced with the 22-year-old serving to stay in it at 5-6, breaking at a crucial time to force a decider – much to Djokovic’s dismay. The 20-year-old saved two break points early in the third set after the crowd booed him following a video review incident, with the umpire forced to step in and tell the fans that they wouldn’t play if the booing continued.

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Rune was forced to save another break point later in the set before he had one of his own at a crucial moment with Sinner serving at 4-4, which would have allowed him to serve for the match. But the Italian refused to back down despite having his place in the semi-final secured.

The 10-time title winner shut the door on Rune and quickly swung the momentum in his direction, setting up triple break point. The 20-year-old saved the first two but Sinner took the third and final one before serving out the match, sealing his and Djokovic’s fate after two hours and 32 minutes.

It means that Sinner advances to the semi-final as the Green Group winner with an unblemished 3-0 record as Djokovic joins him in second place. Sinner will now face the second-place player of the Red Group with the world No 1 facing the top man. And Djokovic is still in contention for a record-extending seventh title at the season-ending championships.

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