Paris Masters 2021: Djokovic assures year-end No1 for record seventh time; faces Medvedev for title

ATP chairman Gaudenzi: “Novak deserves huge credit and recognition for continuing to redefine excellence in our sport”

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

Make no mistake: This season had been a special one in the young career of 24-year-old Hubert Hurkacz.

He was playing at the Paris Masters at a career-high No10, and by reaching the semi-finals, he qualified for the ATP Finals for the first time. He achieved that with one of the biggest Masters titles in the calendar, Miami, plus two more titles. He also reached his first Major semi-final at Wimbledon, beating Daniil Medvedev and Roger Federer on the way.

But when he took to court in Paris-Bercy to attempt to reach another Masters final, the spotlight was firmly on his opponent.

Novak Djokovic, 10 years his senior, had stacked up record after record already in 2021. He overtook Federer to claim the record for weeks at No1. He equalled Federer and Rafael Nadal with his 20th Major title, and notched up at least two wins at all the Majors—something not done by either great rival.

He extended his record of Australian Open titles to nine, and was now close to extending his own record five Paris Masters titles—six should he win Sunday’s final.

But in this particular match, one of the most prestigious achievements of his career was about to be sealed. He would assure himself of a seventh end-of-year No1, breaking his record tie with Pete Sampras.

The Serb had not played since losing the US Open final to Medvedev in early September, using the weeks between then and now to recharge the physical and mental batteries for his latest assault on the record books. So there was bit of rust to knock off in his first singles match—though he helped to oil the wheels by entering the doubles draw too.

He came through Marton Fucsovics in three, enjoyed a walkover when Gael Monfils withdrew from Round 3, and began to show his formidable focus in beating Taylor Fritz for the loss of only seven games.

Hurkacz had lost to Djokovic in both previous matches, but those were more than two years ago, and the Pole’s growing form and experience had come on apace since then. And it showed in an outstanding first set, with Hurkacz making 11 winners to six errors, and breaking once to take the set, 6-3.

But in a dramatic reversal, Djokovic swept through the second, 6-0, with the Pole finding just one winner in the set. However, the mental toughness of the mild-mannered Hurkacz ensured a spirited fight-back from 1-4 down in a gripping third set. The Pole attacked the net 13 times, winning 10 points there, and made 20 winners, helped not a little by some increasingly accurate and high-speed serving.

He levelled at 4-4, fended off match point on serve at 4-5, and it headed to a tie-break. The Pole got the first point advantage, but they changed ends at 3-3, and when he missed a first serve at 5-6, the writing was suddenly on the wall. Djokovic took full advantage of the second delivery to force an error, and lifted his arms to the heavens in celebration: 7-6(5).

For he, and probably most of the pulsating Paris crowd, knew that he had ticked off one of his greatest records, a seventh year-end No1 trophy.

He said of the milestone:

“It’s a huge achievement, obviously. I’m very, very proud of it. Grateful to be in this position to make the historic seventh time and surpass my childhood hero, Pete Sampras. It’s incredible.

“I value all the records and achievements greatly. You know, being historically No1 ranked player in the world is probably the paramount achievement of our sport.

“Also, finishing the season as year-end No1 requires full commitment throughout the entire year and consistency and playing the best tennis in the biggest events, which accumulate the most points. So that’s what I have done this year. I played my best at Grand Slams and I got most of my points there.”

The ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi told ATPtour.com:

“Finishing the season as No1 is a monumental achievement. To do it seven times, in this incredible era of men’s professional tennis, is hard to describe. Novak deserves huge credit and recognition for continuing to redefine excellence in our sport, year after year.”

Djokovic also extends his own record as the oldest year-end No1, and in his 14th appearance at the ATP Finals in Turin, which begins in a week’s time, he will go for another huge record: to equal Federer’s six Nitto ATP Finals titles.

That is to come: For now, he is one match-win short of taking back the record in Masters titles that he currently shares with Nadal. Victory in Paris would take his tally to 37.

To do that, he will face the very man who denied him the Calendar Slam at the US Open, world No2 Medvedev.

Defending champion Medvedev faced world No4 Alexander Zverev, who had notched up his own great season by winning the Olympic gold medal and two Masters titles among five titles for the year. He was up to a tour-leading 55 match-wins for 2021, but he faced a man in the form of his life: US Open and Toronto champion, runner-up at the Australian Open, and with wins in his last three matches over Zverev.

Medvedev, indeed, put on another stunning performance in Paris, breaking in the fifth and seventh games to serve out the first set, 6-2.

A long, testing third game in the second set saw Medvedev continue to weave his web with flat pace and penetrating angles to pass Zverev at the net to break, and the German could not contain himself. The racket was smashed, violation given, crowd jeered.

It helped not one iota: Medvedev held to love, the calmest man in the building, 3-1, and then broke again with some metronomic baseline exchanges, and Zverev seemed befuddled. Another love hold from Medvedev, made it 5-1, and although Zverev finally silenced the jeers with a hold, the world No2 completed the win, 6-2, in an hour and 20 minutes.

And that set the perfect conclusion to the last Masters of the year: a replay of their two matches this year, both in Major finals.

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