Turin: Novak Djokovic remained on course to claim his record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title with a 7-6 (7/5) 7-6 (8/6) victory over Taylor Fritz in Turin on Saturday.
Djokovic shrugged off his painful encounter with Daniil Medvedev the day before to lead the semi-final against the ninth-ranked American.
The 35-year-old will meet Norway’s Kasper Ruud, who, at the age of 23, will have his first major title showing after defeating Russia’s Andrey Rublev 6-2 6-4 in the second semi-final in northern Italy.
The Serb has beaten world number four Ruud in all three previous meetings, including this year’s semi-final in Rome.
Djokovic will seek to win his second major title this year, after Wimbledon, after missing a large part of the season, including the Australian Open and the US Open, for refusing to take a Covid vaccine.
“Of course, the last game of the season, I will give everything. It is clear that I will do my best,” said the Serb.
“I am very happy to be able to compete for another major title, one of the biggest we have in our sport.”
Victory in Sunday’s final would see Roger Federer equal six wins in the tournament featuring the world’s eight best players this season.
“I had to fight to survive,” said Djokovic, who has now reached the final of the tournament eight times and last won in 2015.
“I didn’t feel too reactive or too comfortable. I knew coming into today’s match from yesterday’s grueling fight against Medvedev, it would take me some time to adapt and find the dynamic I needed against Fritz, who is one of the best servers on the tour.”
Fritz was playing his first ATP final, having replaced the injured world number one Carlos Alcaraz.
But the American was punished for his mistakes and lost for the sixth time in the same number of meetings against Djokovic.
The Serb held on in large part thanks to his efficient serve and ability to deliver the killing blow at the right time, with a stunning forehand victory clinching the first set in a tiebreak.
In the second set, Fritz was serving at 5–4 to tie the match at one set, but a slamming backhand into the net gave Djokovic a break point and he jumped out to seal the win after another break to tie the game.
“I think my share is that when Novak played, he was the best player,” said Fritz.
“There’s no doubt about that. When he hasn’t played, which is a long period of the year, we’ve seen a lot of different results because when you take him out of the equation, I think all the other players are very close to the level.”
Ruud has played in two Grand Slam finals this year at Roland Garros and the US Open, and is participating in the season-ending eight-man elite tournament for the second time, after being eliminated in the semi-finals last year.
Ruud capitalized on a substandard Rublev who had beaten Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Russian started strong, won his first service match, and dropped only a point in the second.
But as Ruud deepened to make it 2-2, Rublev exploded in goal for eight consecutive games to the point of crying his own towel at changing teams 3-0 in the second set and sending signs of helplessness to his coach.
Behind 6-2 and 4-0, he finally held serve but paid for 23 unforced errors in total to Ruud’s eight whose only fault was dropping serve while serving for the match before sealing the victory in 69 minutes.
The Norwegian will bid for his 10th ATP title and fourth this year after Gstaad, Geneva and Buenos Aires, all on clay.