Novak Djokovic fell at the semi-final stage of the ATP Finals for a second year in succession as he was defeated by Alexander Zverev on Saturday.
World number one Djokovic was hoping to reach the final of the season-ending tournament for the eighth time but came up against Zverev in exceptional form, the third seed winning 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3.
Neither player managed to get a break point until the 10th game, such was the quality of serving, and it was Zverev who was put under pressure. He responded well, though, with an exceptional serve before saving himself and denying Djokovic a one-set lead.
Zverev then wasted two break points of his own in the next game, the set ultimately going to a tie-break, and the match’s first double fault from Djokovic handed the advantage to his opponent, who came out on top in a lengthy rally and then saw a blistering serve give him the set.
Djokovic initially looked rattled and frustrated at the start of the second set, yet a bad miss from Zverev let him off the hook as the five-time champion avoided suffering an early break.
Zverev took just 58 seconds to win the fifth game and go 3-2 up and his next service game was also won to love, but Djokovic finally got the elusive first break to make it 5-4 before converting his fifth set point.
Djokovic could not take that momentum into the decider and, although it went with serve for the first three games, a sloppy showing in game four allowed Zverev to pounce for his first break of the match.
He survived a brief wobble and a break point before eventually closing out a wonderful victory, serving to love again as he set up a final clash with the defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
It remains to be seen whether world number one and Australian Open champion Djokovic will fly to Melbourne in January amid vaccination requirements.
The state of Victoria, where the year’s opening grand slam takes place at Melbourne Park, has introduced a vaccine mandate for professional athletes and across most industries due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As doubts over Djokovic’s participation linger, the 34-year-old superstar was asked about his Australian Open plans after losing to Zverev in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals on Saturday.
“I haven’t been talking to [Tennis Australia], to be honest,” nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic told reporters after his 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3 defeat in Turin.
“I was just waiting to hear what the news was going to be. Now that I know, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The 2021 Australian Open went ahead, albeit in February instead of January, and without fans for most of the tournament following a snap lockdown of Melbourne due to covid.
Djokovic – winner of a joint-record 20 grand slam titles – was among the players critical of the conditions athletes endured prior to this year’s Australian Open, with strict quarantine measures introduced.