World No. 1, Novak Djokovic targets a seventh straight victory over Grigor Dimitrov when he faces the Bulgarian in the semi-finals of the Paris Masters on Saturday.
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Djokovic is bidding for his sixth Paris Masters final, as he continues his hunt for a fifth title at the Masters 1000 tournament. The only time he’s failed to win a final at this tournament was last season, when he surprisingly fell to Russia’s Khachanov.
He’s looking to go one better this year, and on the evidence of his quarter final obliteration of Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday, he will be very hard to stop. Djokovic has not always been at his best this week, revealing after his opening match against Corentin Moutet that he has been struggling with an illness, but there was absolutely no sign of that problem against Tsitsipas on Friday.
The Serbian had laboured to a 7-6 6-4 victory over Moutet in his opening match, before scoring a 7-6 6-1 win over Kyle Edmund in an improved performance in third round, but he was very close to his best against Tsitsipas, romping to a 6-1 6-2 victory in just 58 minutes.
Tsitsipas offered the Serbian the early advantage by hitting back-to-back double faults to drop serve in the opening game of the match, and Djokovic climbed all over the youngster afterwards, suffocating his opponent with his relentless depth, precision and weight of shot. The world No. 1 looked set to dish out an opening set bagel with Tsitsipas serving at 0-5 0-40, but the Greek squeezed out a face-saving hold to get on the board. Djokovic has little problem closing out the set in the next game.
The four-time champion grabbed two more breaks in the second set en route victory, gaining a measure of revenge for the quarter final loss to Tsitsipas at the Shanghai Masters in October, and leveling his head-to-head with the young Greek at 2-2.
The reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion is into his ninth semi-final of the season, and will attempt to reach his sixth final of the year when he faces Dimitrov on Saturday. Apart from the Australian Open and Wimbledon, he’s also won titles in Madrid and Tokyo this year, while his other final was in Rome, where he lost to Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic is locked in an intriguing race for the year-end No. 1 ranking with Nadal, who is currently in pole position for the prestigious honour, and will replace his Serbian rival as world No. 1 on Monday, regardless of whatever happens over the weekend. Nadal will secure the year-end No. 1 ranking if he wins the Paris Masters, meaning Djokovic may have to beat the Spaniard in the potential mouth-watering final if he is to take the race to the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London.
For that final to happen, both men still have semi-finals to win, with Djokovic going first up against Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday.
Dimitrov has been in inspired form this week, taking down Ugo Humbert, David Goffin, Dominic Thiem and Cristian Garin to reach his first Masters 1000 semi-final since last April’s Monte Carlo Masters.
He was particularly impressive in his third round victory over Thiem, dismissing the Austrian 6-3 6-2, while he backed it up with another competent performance against Garin in the quarter finals. The former world No. 3 appeared to be cruising to another comfortable victory when he held a 6-2 2-0 lead over the Chilean, but a lapse in concentration, and a simultaneous rise in level from the battling Garin turned the second set into a proper contest.
Garin broke back immediately for 1-2 in the second set, and then broke again to take a 5-4 lead, earning the chance to serve for the set, but he couldn’t close it out, as Dimitrov steadied himself, and hit back to take the next three games and get over the finish line.
“Everything has been fantastic so far,” said Dimitrov of his form and stay in Paris. “Everybody has been great. My family is here, the team is around, so it gives you a certain amount of comfort to perform. I feel very well surrounded and hopefully there are two more matches to play.”
The 28-year-old is into just his second semi-final of the season, and a first since he reached the last four at the US Open in September. The Bulgarian was as high as No. 3 at the end of 2017 after winning the Nitto ATP Finals, but his troubles since then have been well-documented, as he had sunk way down to No. 78 at the start of the US Open. That Flushing Meadows run got him back into the top-30, and regardless of what happens against Djokovic in Paris on Saturday, he will return to the top-20 when the rankings are updated on Monday.
Like many players, he has found it very tough against Djokovic over the years, winning just one of their previous nine meetings. That solitary victory was at the Madrid Masters in 2013, and he has gone on to lose the next six encounters. A little encouragement could be that he has taken a set off the Serbian in half of those six meetings, so it has not been a totally one sided series!
If Djokovic maintains the stratospheric level he reached against Tsitsipas, it’s going to be a very tough day for Dimitrov on Saturday. If the Bulgarian is to pull off the upset, he’s got to serve extremely well, and take control early with his forehand. Dimitrov is one of the most athletic and flexible players on the tour, but Djokovic also ticks those boxes, and has got a tremendously balanced game to go with it.
Novak Djokovic vs Grigor Dimitrov is live from Paris on Saturday, 2 November from 2:00pm local time/ 1:00pm GMT