Serbian to finish ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by Pepperstone for eighth time

Novak Djokovic dug deep to pass a stiff early test Sunday at the Nitto ATP Finals. In overcoming Holger Rune across three gruelling sets in his opening match at the prestigious season finale, the 36-year-old Serbian made history.

The top-seeded Djokovic’s 7-6(4), 6-7(1), 6-3 victory in Green Group ensured that he will claim the coveted ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by Pepperstone honour for a record-extending eighth time. The six-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Djokovic also guaranteed himself a historic 400th week overall as World No. 1 in the 20 November edition of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

“It means a lot," said Djokovic of ensuring he will end the year as World No. 1. "You could see there were a lot of emotions on the court. I could feel it. I was very eager to win tonight’s match, get that monkey off my back. I won Paris, which put me in a much better position rankings-wise, and I knew coming into Turin I only needed to win one match. A big goal is achieved, everything else now is a bonus.”

Djokovic’s path to those milestones on Sunday was anything but straightforward. Event debutant Rune delivered an accomplished performance inside the Pala Alpitour featuring plenty of high-quality moments, particularly on return. Yet the 2022 champion Djokovic dug deep in trademark fashion to seal a lung-busting three-hour, four-minute triumph and extend his Nitto ATP Finals winning streak to six matches.

“It took everything," said Djokovic. "I saw in the first game, when he fired shots from the baseline in the firsdt three or four points, I knew that it was going to be a tough life for me. If I wanted to win this match, I was going to have to work really hard… He was feeling the ball well, he was sharp. Very aggressive, every short ball he was coming in and he served terrific."

With his 19th consecutive tour-level win, Djokovic joined Jannik Sinner on a 1-0 record in Green Group after the home favourite earlier overcame Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4.

Rune delivered a powerful signal of his intent on the opening point of Sunday's match, crushing a stunning backhand return winner past Djokovic. That was the first of 19 winners the Dane struck in a pulsating 72-minute first set, but he was unable to hold his lead after breaking in the fifth game as Djokovic began to move his opponent around the court more effectively.

The Serbian broke Rune back immediately for 3-3 and later dialled down in trademark fashion to clinch a tie-break in which he won four points against the 20-year-old Rune’s serve.

The lung-busting nature of the first set did little to hamper the intensity of either player in the second. Despite the fast-paced conditions of the Pala Alpitour, Djokovic and Rune’s elite defensive skills ensured a series of extended all-court exchanges, ultimately leading to another tie-break as neither player was able to take control.

Djokovic had moved to 29-6 in tie-breaks for the season after the first set, but Rune soon found himself on the brink of levelling the match as a couple of uncharacteristic forehand errors contributed to the Dane opening a 6/0 lead. A pumped-up Rune made no mistake in forcing a deciding set.

Just as he has done so often in his groundbreaking career, Djokovic found a way to immediately halt his opponent’s momentum. Despite showing frustration after letting slip an early break lead in the third set, the Serbian maintained his focus to clinch his fourth break of the match in the sixth game before serving out for a hard-earned victory.

“I thought he played great," said Djokovic. "I played great at some moments. At some moments I dropped the level, but overall a win is a win. It was a very emotional win and a tough win because of the significance of tonight's match, obviously knowing that if I won I was going to clinch the year-end No. 1. So that was added pressure and tension, but after a terrible second-set tie-break I think I played a really solid deciding set.”