The loss means the top-ranked Djokovic fell to 1-2 in group play and will miss the semifinals if Tomas Berdych beats David Ferrer in the late match, with the Spaniard having already advanced. Berdych would join Ferrer, Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last four with a win.
Djokovic again looked far from the player who was practically unbeatable for much of 2011, and a season in which he won three Grand Slam titles and claimed the No. 1 ranking may well have ended with a dud.
He was broken twice in each of the last two sets, and sent a forehand into the net on Tipsarevic’s third match point.
Just like Nadal said Thursday after missing out on the semis following a loss to Tsonga, Djokovic said he has simply run out of steam at the end of the year.
“What is missing … is that freshness,” Djokovic said. “The will to win, just being on the court, giving a hundred percent. I’m not able to do that now because I just have very little left.”
The Serb said he would still start preparing for a possible match against Federer on Saturday, but added that if Berdych advances instead, then “I look forward to go for a much needed rest.”
“I had an unbelievable year,” he said. “Nothing can really ruin that. I will always remember this year as the best of my life.”
Djokovic looked in control until midway through the second set, but his game gradually unraveled after Tipsarevic broke for the first time to go up 4-2. While Djokovic broke back immediately, he made three forehand errors in his next service game to hand his countryman another break and the set.
Tipsarevic broke again with a delicate forehand volley to start the third, and then easily held serve the rest of the way. Djokovic was broken again in the final game, when he gave Tipsarevic three match points by sending an easy forehand well wide. He saved the first two with a service winner and an ace, but netted a forehand on the third.
“Not trying to undermine my performance or my victory today, (but) I can freely say that this was not Novak Djokovic from the U.S. Open or Wimbledon,” Tipsarevic said. “Which is in a way normal. He won everything a person can win. He had the best season, if I’m not mistaking, in the history of this sport.”
Tipsarevic entered the tournament as an alternate after Andy Murray pulled out after his loss to Ferrer on Monday, and had no chance of advancing after losing his first match to Berdych.
Djokovic was coming off a 6-3, 6-1 loss to Ferrer on Wednesday, which tied for the worst defeat for a No. 1-ranked player since 1983. He looked a lot more combative early on against Tipsarevic, showing flashes of the spectacular shotmaking that led him to a 69-4 record in 2011 heading into this tournament.
“I lost a match that I think I was on the way to win, Djokovic said. “But if this is my last match in the Masters Cup, I’ll be happy because I think, at least comparing to the match against Ferrer, I played a little bit better.”
He was helped at times by Tipsarevic’s erratic backhand, which often seemed to desert him in key moments during the first set. But the ninth-seeded Serb’s accuracy improved as Djokovic’s deteriorated, with Tipsarevic making just three errors in the final set.
Both players finished with more unforced errors than winners—37 to 30 for Djokovic, and 24 to 21 for Tipsarevic.