Novak Djokovic has more history in his sights and is hopeful his recent break from action can help end a six-year title drought at the Nitto ATP Finals.
The world number one has dominated the sport for most of that spell but has been unable to add to the five titles he won in 2008 and from 2012-15, keeping him tied with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl and one short of Roger Federer’s record.
The Serbian has won half of his 20 grand slam titles in the period, and he said of the apparent discrepancy: “It could be just the amount of energy that you spend during the season that you maybe don’t have enough left in the tank for that final push, but also I’ve lost some tight, close matches.
“Against Dominic Thiem a couple of years, last year 7-6 in the third set in the semi-finals. Playing at the highest level against the top eight players of the world, every single match is really high intensity, high demand from you.”
Having fallen agonisingly just short of completing the calendar Grand Slam when he was beaten by Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final, Djokovic took a break of nearly two months, returning for last week’s Paris Masters, where he took revenge on Medvedev to claim another title.
With only the Davis Cup now to come this season, Djokovic believes he has more in the tank than in previous years.
He said: “Yes I think I do because I haven’t played so much as previous years in terms of the amount of tournaments, but I did have a lot of exhausting events that I played, particularly in grand slams, not just physically but more mentally, emotionally, and probably unlike any other year that I’ve had.
“It did take a lot out of me and I just felt like I needed that break in order to rejuvenate and try to get ready for a strong finish of the season. I’ve started the indoor season very well with the Paris win and hopefully I can keep on going with good performances here.”
Another key difference this year is the venue. After 12 editions at London’s O2 Arena, the tournament has moved to the Pala Alpitour in Turin until at least 2025.
Djokovic has been a keen advocate of moving the tournament – the ATP’s biggest asset – to different places, and he said: “It’s great to see the excitement of people around the city for this tournament.
“There’s a great vibe. Hopefully we can have a great event. The arena is beautiful, the organisation so far is great. Everyone wants to finish off the year in the best possible style.”
Djokovic and Medvedev head the field, with Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas both established names at the event.
It’s great to see the excitement of people around the city for this tournament
Russia’s Andrey Rublev and home favourite Matteo Berrettini are making their second appearances, while Norwegian Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland are the debutants.
Djokovic finds himself in the Green Group with Tsitsipas – who gave a positive update on the arm injury that forced him to retire in Paris – Rublev and Ruud while the Red Group of Medvedev, Zverev, Berrettini and Hurkacz appears distinctly more unpredictable.
Medvedev is the defending champion and a clear second favourite after winning his first slam title in New York.
The 25-year-old had been struggling following the resumption of the tour last summer before winning back-to-back titles in Paris and London.
“These two tournaments last year brought me back the confidence that was enough for all this year to be sure that I’m able to beat the best players in the world, and that’s what you have to know in order to be one of them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Russian all-but confirmed he has been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Medvedev, who has spoken in favour of players being allowed to choose, posted a picture on Twitter earlier this week confirming he would be going to the Australian Open.
Organisers have still yet to finalise what the conditions of entry will be, but Medvedev said: “The rule is at this moment that if you are vaccinated you can go and you just play, if you are not you cannot play, so that’s the answer.”
Cameron Norrie is in Turin as the second singles alternate but for the first time there are two British players among the top eight doubles teams.
Joe Salisbury and American Rajeev Ram are the second seeds while Jamie Murray and his Brazilian partner Bruno Soares secured their qualification last week.
The pairs have been drawn in the same group and will face each other on Monday.
The tournament kicks off on Sunday with singles matches between Medvedev and Hurkacz and Zverev and Berrettini. Djokovic takes on Ruud on Monday afternoon while the evening match sees Tsitsipas face Rublev.
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