10sBalls.com

Tennis From London • Year end championship Weekend • Final Four are Nadal, Djokovic, Theim and Medvedev

By Alix Ramsay

Tennis is a very simple game when you break it down: put the ball where the other bloke isn’t and the point is yours. And Novak Djokovic does it so terrifyingly well.

He reached the last four of the ATP Finals with deadly display of focus and intent, beating Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6 in 96 minutes. Zverev wasn’t bad (and was actually pretty impressive in the second set) but Djokovic was very, very good. The man just crowned as the year-end world No.1 for the sixth time makes a habit of that.

But, as we have seen before, Djokovic is still a typical bloke – he is rubbish at multitasking. Men, on the whole, are good at doing one thing and, if they pay attention, they can do it very well. Sometimes. But ask them to do two things at once and it all goes a bit mammaries uppermost.

Think of the other half: “I’m going out now, love; could you look after the kids…and don’t forget that the plumber is coming round at 3pm. And remember to bung the dinner in the oven at sixish because I’ll be back at around seven….”.  And what happens? No dinner, the kids have gone feral but the plumber, the bloke with the power tools and a lifetime’s knowledge of dishwashers, has been well taken care of over several cups of tea and a discussion about the football. ‘Twas ever thus.

Still, Djokovic has been multitasking this week even though it hasn’t ended well when he has tried it in the past.

He ramped up his bid to remove Chris Kermode from the top spot at the ATP in March last year and then flubbed his results for the next two months. He launched the Professional Tennis Players Association just before the US Open this year and then look what happened. He beaned a line judge with a furiously fired stray ball and was defaulted. The old pro made the rookie’s mistake of getting angry and it cost him dear.

You cannot be a catholic Protestant (and before anyone complains: catholic is the adjective; Catholic is the noun. We are using the lower case “c” here) and you certainly cannot be a protesting Catholic (really, the Church doesn’t like it. Many members of my family can attest to that). You have to be, or do, one thing or the other; trying both usually results in disaster.

Here in London, Djokovic swanned into the O2 Arena as the man to beat. As the days went on, it was revealed that he had been proposed as a candidate for the ATP Player Council. This nomination came from the players and that made Djokovic feel good.

But then the ATP said no: if you are part of the organisation of the Professional Tennis Players’ Association (or any other set-up for that matter), you can’t be a part of the ATP’s administration. That was when Djokovic took a pasting from Daniil Medvedev: the ‘man to beat’ was not just beaten but hammered by a younger, much more focused player.

Yet now that that little political spat is behind him, he is free to concentrate on the business of winning the ATP Finals for a record-tying sixth time, drawing him level with the Mighty Fed. And it is when he is single minded that he makes it all seem so straight forward.

The lapse in concentration and the drop in intensity that cost him his match with Medvedev was but a distant memory on Friday afternoon. He started with authority and was clinical in his dismissal of Zverev to take a one-set lead. Then, when the German finally roused himself in the second set and started matching the world No.1 winner for winner, Djokovic would not be stopped. From 2-0 down in the second set tiebreak, he dug in and allowed his rival nothing, not a hint of a chance. His place in the semi-finals was assured – and there he will meet Dominic Thiem.

“Every time we got to play I think in the last three, four matches, it was some marathon, thrilling encounters,” Djokovic said. “Five-setter in the finals of Australian Open earlier this year. It’s semi-finals, so I’m expecting a tough battle, no question about it.

“He’s in a very good form. He loves to play in this surface. Obviously he played finals last year. He beat Roger and myself last year in the O2 Arena.

“He’s a grand slam champion. Obviously, that’s a huge boost for him. Got that kind of pressure and expectation off his back. So I’m sure that allows him to kind of also swing freely on the court and play even better than he did before.

“You know, if I manage to play as well as I did today and show up with a high quality of tennis, I think I have a good chance to win. I mean, I’m just hoping I can start off the match as well as I did today.”

Zverev was not ready to pick the winners from Saturday’s semi-finals; he just knew that he had been outplayed and outthought by the best player in the business.

“Novak served incredibly well, I thought, today,” he said. “I had to go very far back to return his serve. It was very difficult for me, but, yeah, credits to him.

“I think I started playing really well actually in the second set, so a few points decided the set. Yeah, credits to him. He’s doing incredible job. I think tomorrow’s both semi-finals are going to be very interesting and I don’t see any favourites, to be honest.”

There is one bloke who is looking rather good at the moment, though, and provided no one asks him to look after the kids or make the dinner between now and Sunday night, he might just be taking home a sixth ATP Finals title to go with his sixth year-end No.1 trophy.