With his progress from the Red Group already secured at the Nitto ATP Finals, Novak Djokovic could have taken it easy in his round-robin finale against Daniil Medvedev on Friday. But rather than look ahead to the semis, the Serbian showcased his champion mentality to win a gruelling three-hour battle and extend his perfect record to 3-0 on the week with a 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(2) result.
But will his exertions — which left him visibly shaking as he sucked wind during changeovers — leave him spent for Saturday’s elimination match against Taylor Fritz? Has he pushed his body beyond its limits?
“I don’t think that a limit exists,” Djokovic said. “It’s really in your head. It’s really about perspective and approach and your perception of how you see things in that given moment.
“Of course, when you’re going through physical struggles, it affects the game, it affects how you feel mentally, it affects your body language. Of course, the opponent likes seeing you down, and he’s trying to dominate in the rallies, he’s trying to get the upper hand of the match, which was kind of the situation that was happening today.
“But I think the biggest battle, as I’ve said before, is always the inner battle. If you manage to find yourself in that optimal state of mind and body as often as you possibly can, I feel you can extract the best and reap the best results for yourself in every moment, every point, every match.”
Djokovic won that mental battle on Friday in Turin. He now faces a physical battle as he seeks to recover, without a rest day, for his Saturday meeting with Fritz.
“Well, I’m not the freshest guy right now talking to you as I was maybe yesterday,” he admitted, smiling.
The Serbian has shown seemingly superhuman powers of recovery in the past. His experience provides him clarity of mind in this demanding situation, a calmness he hopes will translate to his physical condition.
“On the physical side, I’m not worried because… worry just depletes you of the vital energy you need. If something happens tomorrow in a good or bad way, it happens and I have to deal with it then tomorrow. I’m going to do everything I possibly can today with my physio, with myself, with my team in order to get the good rest, the good recovery. I have things that have always been part of my routine. I know what I need to do.
“I’ve had many cases in my life before where I managed to recover very quickly. Hopefully that’s going to be the case again.”
Thoughts of the semi-finals were far from the mind of the five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion during the match against Medvedev. Already qualified for the knockout rounds, Djokovic was still motivated to earn another win against one of the game’s elite players. He now leads Medvedev 8-4 in their ATP Head2Head series, with three straight wins against the former World No. 1 following the Serbian’s loss in the 2021 US Open final, which ended his bid for the calendar-year Grand Slam at the final hurdle.
“We always want to win against each other regardless of where we play each against other,” Djokovic said of the rivalry between two of the most successful hard-court players in the history of the ATP Tour. “I think the match today was a showcase of those mentalities that we both possess. Of course, he wanted to finish a season with a win, and on the other hand I didn’t want to lose to him. I can’t calculate, I don’t like to calculate, I never did that. My mentality is to win every match that I play in the present moment.
“Again, this stage of my career, every match like this is a golden opportunity for me to grab a win against one of the top guys of the world. Without a doubt I went to the court in a state, throughout the entire match, with this kind of mentality that I want to win, not thinking about what’s coming tomorrow.”
In addition to the satisfaction of the victory, Djokovic also picked up 200 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points and $383,3000 in prize money for his efforts on Friday. Already up one place to No. 7 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings this week, a win against Fritz in the semis could lift the 35-year-old back into the Top 5. By lifting the Turin title as an undefeated champion, Djokovic would earn the richest payday in tennis history: $4,740,300.