Novak Djokovic’s fate at the ATP Finals remains in the hands of Jannik Sinner, the man who ended his 19-match winning streak on Tuesday. The world No 1 beat alternate Hubert Hurkacz 7-6(1) 4-6 6-1 but, because he dropped a set, it has meant that Sinner would be the man responsible for keeping him in the tournament. The Italian must beat Holger Rune on Thursday night otherwise Djokovic will be eliminated.
Hurkacz stepped in for Stefanos Tsitsipas after the world No 6 retired from his second round-robin match on Tuesday and subsequently pulled out of the tournament. With Tsitsipas’ 0-2 record, the Pole had no shot at getting out of the group but he was still playing for points and prize money.
Djokovic, meanwhile, stepped onto the court knowing that his place in the semi-final would still depend on Thursday’s second singles match between Sinner and Hoger Rune. The world No 1 beat Rune in Sunday’s group-stage tie but lost to the Italian on Tuesday night and was looking to get another victory under his belt.
The 36-year-old was seen stretching out his left side and back during moments of a tight first set, which saw no break points for either player before heading to a tiebreak. Djokovic was sublime when it mattered, racing to a 6-0 lead after too many mistakes from the Hurkacz racket. The world No 9 got one back but it was too little too late as the top seed took it 7-6(1).
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Djokovic’s level suddenly faltered in an uncharacteristic dip halfway through the second set. The six-time ATP Finals champion was broken to love, allowing Hurkacz to take a 4-2 lead in what was part of an almost 14-minute spell in which Djokovic failed to win any points. He quickly got himself back in it and had two break-back points just a couple of games later but Hurkacz snuffed them out with two aces.
The 26-year-old managed to force a decider, taking the second set 6-4. It meant that the third set automatically became irrelevant, as Djokovic’s fate was suddenly in Sinner’s hands. By winning a set, Hurkacz also guaranteed Sinner a spot in the semi-final.
Showing his champion mentality, Djokovic treated the final set like any other and was still hungry to get another win on the board as he raised his level and Hurkacz grew frustrated. From 1-1, the top seed won the last five games in a row to end the week with two wins and one defeat.
There is still no guarantee that Djokovic will make it out of the group stage to fight for a record-extending seventh ATP Finals crown – even after a dominant final set. After dropping a set to Hurkacz, the world No 1 now needs Sinner to beat Rune in Thursday’s night session match which would allow him to get out of the group stage in second place and advance to the semi-final.
But if Rune beats the Italian, Djokovic will be dumped out with Rune topping the group and Sinner coming second. If this is the end of the Serb’s ATP Finals campaign, he will have one tournament left for the season – next week’s Davis Cup finals.
He is currently 53-6 in matches for the season and has so far picked up six titles across the Australian Open, French Open and US Open; the Cincinnati and Paris Masters; and the Adelaide International.