Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas go head-to-head for the third time this year, as they battle for a semi-final spot at the Paris Masters on Friday.
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Tsitsipas defeated Djokovic in their most recent meeting at the Shanghai Masters just a few weeks back- can the world No. 1, and four-time Paris champion avenge that defeat on Friday?
Djokovic will lose that world No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal next Monday, but he is still very much in the running for the year-end No. 1 position, and a title run in Paris will boost those chances ahead of the final tournament of the season at the Nitto ATP Finals in London.
The Serbian has not always been at his best this week- he revealed after his opening round victory over Corentin Moutet that he has been struggling with an illness- but he’s still moved through to the quarter finals without dropping a set, moving past Moutet and Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund.
An off-colour Djokovic trailed by a break in the opening set against the impressive Moutet in his opening match, and had to save two set points on his serve at 3-5, before breaking back for 5-5 in the next game. The Serbian dominated the ensuing tie break, and built a big enough lead in the second set to hold off an attempted fight back from Moutet, running out a 7-6 6-4 victor.
He came through another tight opening set against Kyle Edmund in the third round, but once he struck a forehand winner down the line to close out the set on his fourth set point, he pulled away in the second set, playing his best tennis of the week to canter to a 7-6 6-1 victory. The world No. 1 produced a stunning closure to the match, hitting three clean return winners in the final game to finish off the Brit, and register his 50th match win of the season.
“I was feeling energy-wise better and felt more alert, just more strength, more energy, more speed. I didn’t play so well, I think, from baseline in the first set. I served well. That got me to the tie-break,” Djokovic said.
“Second set was the best set I’ve played so far in the tournament. Finished off with a winner, finished off with amazing return game. So of course the sensation is very positive. And I’m convinced that I’m headed in the right direction so that tomorrow will be even better.”
This is the 12th time Djokovic has reached the 50-win mark, and while he has not been as domineering as he’s been in some of those seasons, he has still put together a high-quality year, winning Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and adding Madrid and Tokyo to the collection.
He’s on well on course for a fifth title of 2019 in Paris, where he’ll seek his ninth semi-final of the season on Friday. The four-time champion faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals.
“Obviously he’s one of the best players in the world. He’s already an established player. He’s all-around player, plays very well on all surfaces,” Djokovic said of Tsitsipas.
After struggling for results for most of the North American hard court swing, Tsitsipas has hit a rich vein of form over the last month, and will attempt to reach a fourth consecutive tour semi-final when he takes on Djokovic on Friday.
Before the start of this current good run in Beijing, the Greek had lost five successive matches, but he snapped that streak with a runner-up finish in the Chinese capital, and has since added semi-finals in Shanghai and Basel, booking a maiden appearance at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in the process.
Tsitsipas had never won a match at the Paris Masters before this year, losing to Damir Dzumhur in his main draw debut last season, but he’s registered straight-set wins over Taylor Fritz and Alex De Minaur to advance to the quarter finals. He was most impressive in his 6-3 6-4 victory over De Minaur, who had reached the final in Basel in the previous week. The seventh seed hit 11 aces against De Minaur, winning over 80% of points on both his first and second serves. He dropped just seven points on serve all match.
It was a milestone win for the Greek, who reached 50 wins for the season, and also recorded his 100th tour-level victory in one swoop. A superb year has included titles in Marseille and Estoril, runner-up finishes in Dubai, Madrid and Beijing, and semi-finals in Basel, Shanghai, Washington, Rome and of course, the Australian Open.
Can he add a Paris Masters semi-finals to that wonderful compilation?
Tsitsipas owns a 2-1 record against Djokovic, and has won both of their previous hard court meetings- in Toronto last year, and Shanghai in October. Djokovic’s solitary victory was at the Madrid Masters in May.
Given his recent good run, and the fact that he defeated Djokovic recently, Tsitsipas should be feeling pretty confident heading into Friday’s contest. He’s got the weapons to hurt Djokovic, chiefly the serve, the forehand, and willingness to go to, and competence at the net. If he plays as well as he can, he can definitely win this one.
Djokovic moved towards his best in the latter stages of his win over Edmund in the previous round- I think he’ll need to reach higher if he is to get past Tsitsipas on Friday.
Novak Djokovic vs Stefanos Tsitsipas is live from Paris on Friday, 1 November from 3:30pm local time/ 2:30pm GMT