After Daniil Medvedev smacked a forehand winner on match point to take down the World No. 1, 6-3, 6-3 in just 81 minutes, he tapped a ball toward the backstop, and nonchalantly approached the net, where Novak Djokovic gave him a fist bump. The Russian didn’t pump his fists, raise his arms in the air or even smile. But Novak did, extending a warm salute to his young rival, who seemingly beat him at his own aggressive baseline game and has now prevailed against him in three of their past four ATP Head2Head encounters.
It was far from his best performance, but Nole, as he’s affectionately called in the Balkans, could still afford to smile because the Nitto ATP Finals is the only tournament of the year where you can lose and still win. The 17-time major champion still has his eyes on the prize: a record-tying sixth title overall and fifth at The O2.
The Serb was upbeat in the press conference, given the circumstances. But when a reporter noted that it seemed like he was breathing heavily at times during the match, he acknowledged that he went through a spell of 15 to 20 minutes during the match where he didn’t feel well.
“Well, I was, to be honest [not feeling well] a little bit, especially towards the end of the first set, beginning of the second,” said Djokovic, 33. “I kind of regrouped and felt better… towards the end of the match. But, yeah, just unfortunate 15, 20 minutes for me that resulted with seven games in a row lost… I made some unforced errors. I dropped the level of [my] game and fitness just in general. I struggled to… find the right rhythm for 15 minutes or so…You know, against a player like Medvedev, the match is done.”
Djokovic also credited his opponent for a match well played.
“I cannot allow these things to happen when you’re playing one of the top players of the world,” he said. “He was just better, no question about it… He’s serving tremendously well, moving great. [He didn’t] give me too many unforced errors and free points. Yeah, I mean, just not a great match from my side. I thought I could have and should have done better, but credit to him for playing on a high level.”
The Serb said that Medvedev’s first serve, strong backhand and fluid movement caused problems for him all match.
“He’s a tall guy and he moves well, he rarely misses backhands, and he’s just a smart player, very smart player,” he said. “[He] knows how to make you run, make you play, and he always asks additional shots from the back of the court… from his opponent. If you start making unforced errors and maybe if you’re not playing at your best, he uses it. You know, he was a better player. [He] deserved to win, no doubt about it.”
The defeat dropped Djokovic’s still-exceptional record to 40-4 on the season. He was an uncharacteristic minus nine in winners (13) versus unforced errors (22) in the match, compared to Medvedev’s plus nine (17/8). Djokovic served five double faults and the trim Russian belted 10 aces. Novak’s next opponent in the tournament’s round-robin phase is Alexander Zverev, who is also 1-1 in the group after beating Diego Schwartzman this afternoon. It’ll be a winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home match that could be a classic.