Novak Djokovic warned rising tennis stars that he still has what it takes to beat them and likened his Paris Masters final opponent Holger Rune to himself after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Serbian prevailed over the Greek star in a pulsating three-set semi-final encounter on Saturday and will compete for his seventh title in Bercy this afternoon.
Djokovic will play just his second match against the young tennis star, with the first coming at last year’s US Open. The 21-time grand slam champion prevailed in four sets that day in New York, but the teenager has vastly improved since then and is in a rich vein of form.
The Dane has won two titles in 2022, with his most recent trophy coming in Stockholm last month, where he defeated Tsitsipas in the championship match. Having also made the final in Sofia and Basel in October, Rune now has an opportunity to win his first Masters 1000 crown after ending Felix Auger-Alliasime’s 16-match win streak in the Paris semis.
He will prove a massive threat to Djokovic, who is aware of the challenges the world number 18 possesses and even compared the youngster’s game to his own. “I saw him play today. Yesterday, it was just a very impressive game,” the former world number one said after his semi-final. “Kind of reminds me of myself, you know, solid backhand and very good defence and, you know, just competitive, every point leaving his heart and his legs out there on the court.
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“It’s nice to see that. I think he’s very good for our sport in general.” The Serbian opened up on his relationship with Rune, whose career he has followed for the last few years and explained what he expects him to bring to the table later today.
“Well, I know him quite well because we have trained on different surfaces. I really like him,” he added. “Very nice guy. Great family. Great team of people around him. Fantastic work ethic that he has, and he deserves his success. I followed him the last three, four years, his uprising through challenger level and then getting now to top 15 in the world.
“No doubt that he’s the future of the sport, along with Alcaraz and some other guys. Hopefully I can suspend his first title Masters 1000 event (smiling). We get along really well. Good friends off the court. Of course on the court, competitors. I played him only once last US Open, good battle, four sets. He has improved a lot, no doubt. I mean, he physically is a very fit guy. He’s young, so not much to lose. Just swinging through the ball. I expect that also tomorrow.”
In a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4) victory in the last four, the Serbian won the final four points of the match after falling behind by a mini-break in the decisive tie-break, including a defensive masterclass to bring up match point. The 35-year-old was delighted to secure his ninth win over the world number five and insisted he wants to keep making statements to show young stars like Carlos Alcaraz and Rune that he can still topple them.
“I was just proud to be part of such a fantastic atmosphere as well. To play one of the best players in the world at this stage, it means a lot to me,” he said post-match. “Because, again, at this stage of my career, to keep pushing myself, keep motivating myself, keep believing that I can win these matches, it means a lot mentally, emotionally for me, more than anything. Because I need to also make a statement that I’m still there with the young guys, that I’m able to compete with them and win such tight matches.”