Novak Djokovic out-battled Alexander Zverev to qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Friday, staying on track to match Roger Federer’s record of six titles at the end-of-season event.
The Serbian top seed, who was beaten comprehensively by Daniil Medvedev in his second round-robin match, was again below his best at London’s O2 Arena but did enough to win 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).
The five-time winner finishes second in Group Tokyo 2020 behind Medvedev and will play third-seed Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Second-seed Rafael Nadal, seeking his first win at the elite eight-man event, will face Medvedev in the other semi-final after finishing second in Group London 2020.
Djokovic broke Germany’s Zverev at the first time of asking in the empty stadium and raced into a 3-0 lead, threatening to run away with the match – a repeat of the 2018 final, which Zverev won in straight sets.
The 33-year-old looked focused after his uncharacteristic mauling by Medvedev, serving himself out of trouble when he found himself trailing 15-40 in the seventh game.
That proved to be the last chance for Zverev in the set and 17-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic hammered a backhand winner down the line to take it 6-3.
Djokovic handed Zverev a break point in the fourth game of the second set after double-faulting but the German could not capitalise.
The 23-year-old fifth seed saved two break points on his serve in the following game, letting out a roar as he kept his nose in front.
The set went to a tie-break. Zverev earned an early mini-break but Djokovic levelled and the pressure was back on the German, who faltered to hand the Serbian victory.
Djokovic, who recently equalled Pete Sampras’s record of six year-end number one finishes, has the chance to end the coronavirus-truncated 2020 season on a high by joining the absent Federer on six titles.
Medvedev will take on eighth-seed Diego Schwartzman, in the evening match, which is a dead rubber.
The O2 Arena is hosting the event for the 12th and final season before the championships move to Turin.
Results from the sixth day of the ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena on Friday (x denotes seeding):
Group Tokyo 1970
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Alexander Zverev (GER x5) 6-3, 7-6 (7/4)
Daniil Medvedev (RUS x4) v Diego Schwartzman (ARG x8)
Group Bob Bryan
Mate Pavic/Bruno Soares (CRO/BRA x1) bt John Peers/Michael Venus (AUS/NZL x6) 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 10-8
Marcel Granollers/Horacio Zeballos (ESP/ARG x4) v Jurgen Melzer/Edouard Roger-Vasselin (AUT/FRA x7)
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