Novak Djokovic edged out another close victory against Holger Rune in his opening match at the ATP Finals, coming through 7-6(4) 6-7(1) 6-3. Just like their last three meetings, it was a rollercoaster with Djokovic stomping on his rackets in frustration early in the third set. But he was able to get the win and cemented his place as the year-end No 1 – something he said was his main goal this week.
As well as making his debut at the season-ending championships, Rune was seeking to avenge last week’s loss to Djokovic in Paris-Bercy as he stepped out onto the court at the Pala Alpitour. And he immediately made a statement in his maiden ATP Finals match against the six-time champion.
In his first-ever point at the tournament, the 20-year-old fired a return winner straight down the court. And Rune pounced in the fifth game of the match, taking his third break point when Djokovic sent the ball flying outside the tramlines. But the world No 1 didn’t let his rival have the advantage for long, breaking straight back.
With more than an hour already on the clock, the first set headed into a tiebreak where Djokovic immediately responded again when Rune snatched a mini-break lead in the first point. And the 36-year-old raised his game at a crucial moment to take the opener 7-6(4) after 71 minutes.
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Djokovic continued to lull Rune into a false sense of security in the second set, pouncing as soon as the four-time title winner had any hint of an upper hand. Once again, the six-time champion broke straight back as soon as the 20-year-old took a 2-0 lead, with both men waving their arms to try and get the crowd going.
The match suddenly looked as though it was going to go the distance when Rune had a set point on Djokovic’s serve at 5-4. But the top seed continued to close the door on any opportunities the Dane had, saving it before they went to another tiebreak. Rune raced into a 6-0 lead thanks to some uncharacteristic mistakes from the Djokovic racket and, for the second time in nine days, the pair went to a decisive final set as the world No 10 took it 7-6(1).
It came just days after Djokovic lost a tiebreak to Rune 7-3 in the second set of their Paris Masters quarter-final – a tiebreak he claimed was his worst of the year. But he rebounded by breaking early in the final set as their ATP Finals match looked to follow a similar pattern with Djokovic winning in three sets after dropping the second.
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The 20-year-old didn’t want to let Djokovic edge out a win this time around, however, as he broke back to stay hot on his heels at 1-2. The world No 1 walked to his bench for the changeover and let out his frustration, stomping on two rackets.
The release of emotion seemed to do the trick as he got one final, crucial break of the Rune serve to take a 4-2 lead, going on to close out a tight three-set victory in three hours and four minutes. It marks his 19th match win in a row and means that Djokovic has also secured the year-end No 1 ranking for a record-extending eighth time.
Ahead of the tournament, he admitted that it was his main goal over winning the ATP Finals. “For me, the biggest goal right now is to end the season as the No 1 player in the world, so hopefully I can clinch it,” Djokovic told ATP Media. “I need one win, so hopefully that happens. And then of course, I would love to win the tournament as well. But that’s the goal and then let’s see what happens afterwards.”
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