First Astana 500 a Grand Success

09.10.2022    Views: 890
Source: KTF press-service
Greg Garber

The trumpets were playing the «Rocky» theme and there was a buzz in the crowd at Sunday’s Astana Open final.

Later, when 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic emerged a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Stefanos Tsitsipas, it was the ninth consecutive match victory for the No. 4 seed, who won the title a week ago in Tel Aviv. This was the 90th tour-level title for the 35-year-old and it required only 75 minutes.
When the on-court interviewer observed that Djokovic probably never dreamed of 90 ATP Tour titles, Djokovic shook his head.

«I dared to dream, actually,» he corrected. «I always hoped that I would be going to have a great career. Obviously, didn’t know the amount of finals I was going to play, the amount of tournaments I was going to win, but my intention was always to reach the highest heights in our sport.»

For the No. 3-seeded Tsitsipas, it was the ninth time he played in an ATP Tour 500 final – and the ninth time he came up empty. Djokovic now leads their head-to-head matchup 8-2 and has won the past seven.

As a result of the win, the Serbian star secures himself a Top 20 spot in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race to Turin after the 2022 Rolex Paris Masters, meaning the reigning Wimbledon champion qualifies for the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals as a current-year Grand Slam winner. It was the 90th career tour-level title for Djokovic and the fourth of 2022.

«I’m just very grateful and blessed to be able to play this well at this stage of my life,» Djokovic said. «You know, 35 is not 25. But I think the experience, probably, in these kinds of matches and big occasions helps as well to approach mentally in the right way.»

Tsitsipas will return to Top 5 on Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday and the 24-year-old Greek still leads all ATP Tour players with 53 match wins.
Djokovic began the match with an extraordinary level of play, winning the first game at love in a little over one minute. With Tsitsipas serving at 3-4, the 21-time major champion turned up the heat. Employing the drop shot that undid Daniil Medvedev in a semi-final tie-breaker, Djokovic went on to create the only break point of the first set. After Tsitsipas over-hit a forehand, Djokovic served it out, finishing a flourish – and ace outside.

Djokovic scored another break in the fifth game of the second set when a frustrated Tsitsipas attempted a drop shot that fell into the net. Later, Djokovic converted his third match point with a backhand winner into an open court.

For the match, Djokovic won 33 of 38 first-serve points (87 percent). He did not face a break point. He hit 15 winners and only seven unforced errors. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, consistently struggled to land his forehand.

Did nearly three months away from tennis following his win at Wimbledon make Djokovic hungrier for success?
«Well, it did,» Djokovic said. «I could not ask for a better re-start of the season. I’m super-pumped and motivated to end the season as well as I have done these past couple of weeks.»

The ATP Tour 500 level tournament enjoyed a terrific field – six Top 10 players, representing a total of 27 Grand Slam singles titles. All four players who reached the semifinals – Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev – were Top 10 players.

The competition was so fierce that No. 1 seed Carlos Alcaraz and No. 8 seed Felix Auger Aliassime lost their first-round matches. Lucky Loser David Goffin scored the upset of the tournament, stunning World No. 1 Alcaraz. Roberto Bautista Agut defeated Auger-Aliassime. Adrian Mannarino, ranked No. 51, won two singles matches – and reached the doubles final with partner Fabrice Martin.

There were three Kazakhstan players in main draw, led by World No. 41 Alexander Bublik, who won his first-round match before falling to No. 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Kazakhstan Tennis Federation Vice President Yuriy Polskiy could not have been prouder.
«There are a lot of memories coming back from last years, and nine years ago, eight years, when we just started building up the fan base and when we really started to host big events,» Polskiy said. «And now I see that the crowd knows how to behave, that they are tennis people. They know players, they know what the score means.»
The match of the tournament was the semi-final between Djokovic and Medvedev. In a taut first set, Medvedev prevailed 6-4, but Djokovic – with a variety of clever drop shots – rallied to win a second-set tie-breaker. And then, Medvedev walked to Djokovic’s side of the net and shook his hand, telling him he was retiring with a leg injury. Djokovic seemed baffled and the crowd was stunned.

To put Djokovic’s achievement in context: He has now played ATP Tour finals in 22 countries. Last week, in winning the title in Tel Aviv, he played in Israel for the first time. Kazakhstan’s Astana Open was also a first for him.

«It is a conscious effort,» Djokovic said before the tournament. «A decision that I am happy to be able to make in my career, after 20 years of professional tennis. I feel like I deserve and opportunity to pick and choose where I want to play. I’m not going to play «regular» seasons, I’m just going to try to see where can play first of all for the [vaccination] situation and where I wish to play, where I wish to explore new places.

«And hopefully contribute to the promotion of tennis inn  that country, Kazakhstan has been investing a lot in tennis the last 15 years, we know that, they have now the female Wimbledon champion, Rybakina, and they’ve had a strong Davis Cup team over the last several years.

«When a big country like this is investing in tennis, they care about organizing a big tournament like this one in Astana. You see the field is super-strong, it feels like a 1000 event. It’s exciting for this country for sure to have all these players.»

Polskiy continued, «To me, the biggest surprise was to see Novak Djokovic practicing with Marin Cilic on a court where usually kids are practicing. That was something special because I’m used to seeing those guys on big stadiums and here I know that court pretty well and kids just start playing there with red balls, six-, seven-year-olds, and now these huge superstars practice in there and there were 27 Grand Slams, because there was Novak, Cilic and Goran Ivanisevic.
«Imagine that.» 

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