Novak Djokovic was once again in imperious form as he qualified for his 10th semi-final at the Nitto ATP finals following a straight sets victory over Andrey Rublev in Turin.
The world number one, who is targeting a record-equalling sixth title at the tournament to cap a sensational 2021, came through 6-3 6-2 in one hour and eight minutes to finish top of Green Group with a match to spare.
The result also sees the 20-time Grand Slam champion claim his 40th win at the ATP finals, moving beyond Ivan Lendl into outright second position for most match victories at the competition, with Roger Federer way out in front on 59.
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Speaking during an on-court post-match interview, Djokovic said: "I knew that I had to be on my toes so to speak and start well with a good intensity. I dropped the serve again like in the first match but managed to break back right away. It wasn’t a great start from both of us.
"There were some close games until 4-3 and then somehow I managed to find the right shots at the right time and made him play. The crucial point was at 4-3 on the break point when I managed to put a good passing shot next to him to go 5-3 up. Winning the first set obviously put additional pressure on him. I was more consistent then and served very well. That helped tremendously.”
An untidy opening period saw both players trade immediate breaks with Djokovic again showing early rust on serve, similar to his lull prior to easing past Casper Ruud in his opening match.
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The Serb didn’t have it all his own way for much of the opening set as Rublev’s booming forehand posed plenty of problems, but that all changed in game eight when Djokovic made the most of a backhand error from his opponent and swooped in to nail a crosscourt pass and claim a crucial break. The five-time champion then served out to love to take the opener in 36 minutes before claiming another break to lead 2-1 at the start of the second set.
Djokovic’s trademark elasticity in defensive positions was once again key as he produced a devastating pass on the stretch to unlock the world No 5 and ensure the rest of the match would be a formality.
Djokovic had never met Rublev in a competitive clash prior to this contest and he duly moved in front in the head-to-head when he broke once more in game seven before serving out the match to offer further evidence that he looks fresh and ready to end a six-year wait to lift this trophy once more.
Djokovic will now meet Cameron Norrie, who replaced the injured Stefanos Tsitsipas as the second alternative, in his final round-robin match and is looking forward to the showdown with the British number one.
He added: "I always like playing new players, particularly in one of the greatest tournaments in the world. Cameron deserves to be here. Obviously he’s here as second alternate but still, it’s not undeserved. He was not lucky. He worked his way to Turin with a great win at Indian Wells and in some other tournaments, just playing at a high level. It will be fun to watch him tonight against Ruud and then get ready for the next one.”
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