Novak Djokovic will end the year as world number one for a record eighth straight year after beating Holger Rohn 7-6 (7/4), 6-7 (1/7), 6-3 in his opening match in the ATP finals. on Sunday.
The 24-time Grand Slam champion needed just one win or a loss for young rival Carlos Alcaraz to secure the top spot in the 2023 ATP Rankings and prevailed in a three-hour Green Group clash with spirited debutant Rune.
Djokovic, on a 19-match winning streak, had an age-defying year, winning three Slams to become the all-time record major player.
The 36-year-old entered the finals in Turin on the back of his seventh Paris Masters triumph, his 40th Masters 100 event victory.
Those are two more records to add to a long and growing list for Djokovic, who is chasing a seventh Finals title that would take him one ahead of retired great Roger Federer.
“It means a lot. You could see there was a lot of emotion on the court,” Djokovic said.
“I was feeling it, I was really keen to win the race and get that monkey off my back…Obviously a big goal, a big goal achieved, everything else now is a bonus.”
Djokovic looked on course for victory when he took a brutal opening set in decisive fashion, winning the tiebreak with a stunning cross-court winner.
And the match looked set to take a decisive turn in the third game of the second set when, after Rooney won the first two, Djokovic broke through in a brilliant 11-point game to finally win at the third attempt.
However, Rooney continued to pull away and after the pair hit each other with increasingly long shots, Djokovic slipped into the tiebreak, missing a simple volley to level on the second point and then collapsing to concede the set.
But after briefly losing it by allowing Rooney to break in the third game of the third set, kicking his racquets in a rage, Djokovic recovered and saw out a historic victory.
“I found a way to win today against an opponent who played brilliantly… he had a lot of courage today,” Djokovic added in Italian.
“If I want to keep up with these youngsters, I’ll have to work even harder!”
Home hope Jannik Sinner got off to a near-perfect start by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, thrilling the crowd in northwest Italy.
Sinner has had the best season of his career to date, winning four tournaments and is set to become the first Italian to finish a season in the top five of the ATP.
The 22-year-old comfortably faced 2019 champion Tsitsipas in front of an enthusiastic crowd, not dropping serve or facing a break point throughout the match.
“The atmosphere was really nice. It’s a great pleasure for me to play here in Turin, Italy,” Sinner told reporters.
“Obviously a bit more pressure, but I did really well today, so I’m happy.”
Afterwards, Greek Tsitsipas denied he had any physical problems despite looking well below his best, telling reporters “I’m healthy. I’m ready to fight.”
The 25-year-old had to play down reports of an elbow injury that limited training ahead of the start of the tournament.
“I am absolutely fine and ready to play this tournament. Torino is one of the most important events of the year for me,” he said.
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