In an astounding display of tenacity, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic edged past fifth seed Andrey Rublev on Saturday evening, in what turned into a gritty contest of endurance at the Rolex Paris Masters. The Serbian superstar is now teetering on the brink of an unprecedented seventh title at this premier ATP Masters 1000 event following a nail-biting 5-7, 7-6(3), 7-5 semi-final victory.
Djokovic, who remains undefeated in semi-final appearances in Paris, showed signs of strain, including a visit from the physio for his lower back amidst the match. Nevertheless, he emerged victorious after a challenging duel that clocked just over three hours, showcasing the relentless spirit that has become his trademark.
In a post-match confession, Djokovic lauded his opponent's formidable play: "Rublev was commanding the court with an exceptional level of tennis; today, his game was beyond anything I have previously encountered," praised Djokovic, reflecting on Rublev's fierce performance.
The quest for glory in Paris witnessed another chapter as Djokovic secured his spot in Sunday's showdown against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, who won a tight contest against Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Serbian champion battles not just his rivals but also his health, revealing a struggle with a stomach virus over the past days.
His resilience shone through the ailment as he focused on drawing energy from the rush and support of the Parisian crowd.
Djokovic's Semifinal Struggle
Despite claiming the first game of the match, Djokovic's usually steadfast baseline game showed vulnerability.
Rublev capitalized on a series of unforced errors from Djokovic to snatch the first set. The top seed had to dig deep in the subsequent sets against the hard-hitting Russian, particularly after extensive rounds with Tallon Griekspoor and Holger Rune.
A clutch performance in the tiebreak of the second set proved crucial for Djokovic, as did his critical break in the closing stages of the match. Rublev's resolve crumbled when he double-faulted at match point, sealing his fate and Djokovic's path to the final.
Reflecting on the match's progression and his physical battles, Djokovic admitted to fitness struggles but remained steadfast: "The second-set tie-break saw me at my serving best, and that set the tone for the rest of the match.
I always felt close in his service games and finally capitalized on it," he stated, with an eye on securing his position in the live race to Turin with a victory in the final. A win in Paris would strengthen Djokovic's already formidable year and bolster his lead in the ATP Live Race, inching him closer to securing the prestigious Year-End No.
1 title for a record-extending eighth time. Meanwhile, Rublev, who has shone in Masters 1000 tournaments this year, sets his sights on success in the upcoming Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.