Serbia s Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Russia s Andrej Rublev during the semifinals of the Paris Masters tennis tournament at the Accor Arena, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Paris. AP
Djokovic overcame a slow start to rally past his Russian opponent 5-7, 7-6 (3), 7-5 and maintain his perfect record in the semifinals at the indoor tournament. The Serbian player will take on Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in Sunday’s final.
“Rublev was suffocating me like a snake suffocates a frog for most of the match,” Djokovic said. “He was playing an extremely high level that he possesses, but today he was off the charts, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever faced Rublev this good.”
Dimitrov overcame strong resistance from seventh-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas with a 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3) victory.
The road to the final has not been an easy one for Djokovic, who defeated defending champion Holger Rune in three sets in the quarterfinals and also came out on top of a three-set contest in the third round.
Djokovic said he has been hampered by a stomach virus that made “him feel terrible the past three days.” He took pride in “not giving up, fighting and believing that I can come back, which happened again and hopefully it can happen tomorrow.”
Against Rublev, Djokovic made some unusual mistakes from the baseline early on but improved as the the match advanced.
Rublev earned a set point at 6-5 in the opener when he made the most of a weak second serve by Djokovic with an excellent backhand return that he followed up with a forehand winner. Djokovic then fluffed a drop shot that bounced back in his own half.
Rublev was in trouble in the fifth game of the second set at 0-40 but stayed calm to save the three break points. He was lucky on the third one when his backhand hit the net cord and bounced in Djokovic’s side.
Rublev continued to use his big forehand to good effect and held for a 4-3 lead after saving another break point.
Djokovic made the difference in the tiebreaker with inspired shot making. He moved to a 4-2 lead after coming out on top of a long rally and was then 6-3 ahead thanks to a sublime forehand return. He sealed the set with an ace.
Djokovic then called the physio to receive treatment on his back.
Once back on the court, he served extremely well throughout the deciding set. Rublev was excellent too but finally cracked in the 12th game to drop his serve, and the match. Rublev hit a double-fault on match point and slammed his racquet on the floor in anger.
Earlier, Dimitrov returned to a Masters 1000 tournament final for the first time in six years.
Dimitrov served well, hit 38 winners and was flawless at the net to tame Tsitsipas.
He made the most of the Greek’s poor start to claim the first set before his rival saved two break points at 4-4 in the second set and started a comeback.
Dimitrov made several mistakes in the tiebreaker as Tsitsipas forced a decider, gesturing toward the crowd to ask for support.
“I am just happy I was able to get through that match in such a manner,” Dimitrov said.
Tsitsipas failed to convert four break point chances in the third game.
“After that second set, especially the tiebreak, it was getting very tricky again. 15-40 down in the third again and I was just thinking it can’t keep going like this, so I have to change something,” Dimitrov said.
Dimitrov rose to the occasion in the final tiebreaker when he hit three superb passing shots, including one to seal the match.
“The first five points in the tiebreak were excellent,” Dimitrov said. “I took those chances and that was all I could do against such a high-quality player. If you let him dictate, you are done. But I kept on believing and kept staying focused and made sure every time I had the ball on the racquet, I did something with it.”
Dimitrov is chasing his first tour-level tournament since 2017, when he won the ATP Finals. He reached his only previous Masters 1000 final the same year in Cincinnati.
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