ATP

ATP Finals: Djokovic hails 'great performance' as 50th win of 2021 seals last-four berth

By Sports Desk November 17, 2021

Novak Djokovic felt he had produced "a great performance" to cruise past Andrey Rublev and reach the last four at the ATP Finals in Turin.

A 6-3 6-2 triumph for Djokovic in just 68 minutes on Wednesday moved him into the semi-finals with a match to spare.

Djokovic will face alternate Cameron Norrie on Friday already knowing he will finish top of the Green Group after straight-sets wins over Casper Ruud and Rublev this week.

The Serbian dropped serve in the first game of the match against world number five Rublev but had few problems from then on.

Victory took Djokovic to 50 wins on the ATP Tour this season. He has been beaten just six times in 2021 and is now two victories away from a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals success. 

The 34-year-old has won 12 of his 13 matches since the start of the US Open, losing only to Daniil Medvedev – his main rival for glory again here – in the final of that competition.

"It was a great performance overall," said Djokovic, who won 27 of 31 points on his first serve and had 14 aces to zero double faults. 

"I served well and that helped tremendously. I wanted to put him out of his comfort zone, taking away the time and mix up the pace.

"I knew that I had to be on my toes and start well.

"I dropped my serve again like in the first match against Ruud. It was quite a nervous start from both of us until 4-3, then with new balls I somehow managed to find the right shots at the right time. 

"I made him play. Winning the first set I put additional pressure on him, and I started to maybe play more consistently from the back of the court."

Rather than 2019 winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has withdrawn with an elbow injury, Briton Norrie is up next for the world number one at the ATP Finals.

"I always like playing new players, particularly in one of the greatest tournaments in the world here in Turin," added Djokovic.

"Cameron deserves to be here, it is not lucky. He worked his way to Turin with great wins in Indian Wells and some other tournaments.

"So it will be fun to watch him play against Ruud and I will get ready for my next match."

Djokovic has now made the last four of the ATP Finals on 10 occasions, with this being his 40th career win in the tournament (16 defeats).

Related items

  • Colombia enduring wretched goalless run to leave World Cup hopes in doubt Colombia enduring wretched goalless run to leave World Cup hopes in doubt

    Colombia continued their wretched goalscoring run on Friday as their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup took another blow.

    Reinaldo Rueda's side were stunned by Peru in Barranquilla as an 85th-minute goal from Edison Flores secured a 1-0 win for the visitors.

    Colombia had 30 shots to Peru's four, with 2.35 expected goals to their opponents' 0.36, and had more than five times as many touches in the opposition box. Somehow, they failed to make their dominance count.

    The result means Colombia have now gone six games in a row without scoring, with Paraguay also enduring the same barren run. It is the second-longest run of matches without a goal in the history of South American World Cup qualifying.

    It also leaves them in sixth place in the standings after 15 games, with Uruguay two points ahead and Peru three above them. Only the top four – presently Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Peru – will automatically qualify for the finals in Qatar.

    Colombia, whose only goals since September 10 last year came in a 2-1 friendly win over Honduras this month, will face Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela in their final qualifying matches.

  • Why the Rams have leapfrogged the Chiefs as Super Bowl favourites Why the Rams have leapfrogged the Chiefs as Super Bowl favourites

    There wasn't much value in being the favourite in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

    Three of the four underdogs, the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, prevailed to progress to Conference Championship weekend.

    An incredible overtime win over the Buffalo Bills saw the Kansas City Chiefs, the sole favourite to prevail, join them in moving one game away from the Super Bowl.

    Despite a victory in a game many have already labelled as the best playoff game of all time, the Chiefs' position in the Super Bowl odds by Stats Perform's rest-of-season projection has gone down, with the Rams leapfrogging them and taking their spot as the team most likely to lift the Lombardi Trophy on February 13.

    So how has a week of action in which the Chiefs were victorious flipped the odds against Kansas City?

    Hollywood ending in store for LA?

    Rest-of-season or, in this case, postseason projection, projects every future game to give a predicted win percentage for each team across its remaining games. Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team's quarterback and QB efficiency versus expected – performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations – as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.

    For the playoffs, the projection has been used to calculate each team's odds of winning a home game against every postseason team, with those predictions then used to forecast each franchise's chances of reaching and winning the Super Bowl.

    Last week, prior to the Divisional games, the Chiefs were given a 27 per cent shot to win the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons, just ahead of the Rams on 26.3 per cent.

    Following their respective victories, the Chiefs are viewed as having a 37.84 per cent chance of taking the silverware back to Missouri. The more likely outcome, at least according to ROS, is that the trophy stays at SoFi Stadium with the Rams, whose odds of winning it for only the second time in franchise history have ballooned to 38.21.

    It is not a huge margin between the two, but the change at the top is enough to raise eyebrows given how devastating the Chiefs were on offense in defeating the Bills.

    But the Rams' position as the new Super Bowl favourite is more a reflection of the potential opponents, rather than a commentary on the merits of the respective teams.

    Another nail-biter for the Chiefs

    Kansas City already has experience of one nerve-shredding Super Bowl with an NFC West opponent, coming back from 20-10 down in the fourth quarter to beat the 49ers two years ago in Super Bowl LIV.

    And ROS expects either a meeting with the Rams or a rematch with the Niners to be similarly tense.

    The Chiefs would not be considered favourites in a home game with the Rams, Kansas City given just a 45.2 per cent chance to triumph.

    That number improves significantly in a matchup with the 49ers, against whom the Chiefs have 58.2 per cent odds of winning a home game.

    It is still not an overly decisive margin, however, and pales in comparison to the Rams' prospects of beating the alternative AFC representative, the Bengals.

    Cincinnati would have just a 16.8 per cent shot of winning a road game with Los Angeles, and those odds improve to just 19.8 per cent in a home game.

    In other words, while a close game likely beckons for the Chiefs regardless of who wins the NFC Championship Game, an upset win for the Bengals in Kansas City would make the Rams or the Niners (72.1 per cent home game, 67.2 per cent away game) clear favourites to win the Super Bowl on the neutral field site at SoFi Stadium.

    The Bengals' status as rank outsiders even after making it this far is in part based on the struggles of an offensive line that ranked 25th in Stats Perform's pass protection win rate and allowed nine sacks in the Divisional Round win over the Tennessee Titans.

    San Francisco (first), Los Angeles (second) and the Chiefs (15th) each ranked in the top half of the NFL in pass-rush win rate, meaning Cincinnati will be at a clear disadvantage in the trenches in the AFC Championship Game and in a potential Super Bowl matchup.

    The 2021 NFL season has been full of surprises, but the numbers clearly point to the Rams playing in a home Super Bowl against the Chiefs. 

    So, is everybody ready for Niners-Bengals?

  • Vlahovic primed to be Serie A's new poster boy as he ignores pull of Premier League for Juventus Vlahovic primed to be Serie A's new poster boy as he ignores pull of Premier League for Juventus

    It wasn't so long ago that the notion of Juventus hoovering up talent from Serie A rivals would have been seen in a negative light by most Italian football fans.

    But while their domination of Italy's top division only really ended last season when Inter brought the Bianconeri's nine-year subjugation of Serie A to a halt, their current situation would make you think it was far longer since they were a challenger.

    When the season resumes after this international break, Juve will go into their next fixture at least 11 points off the top, down in fifth. For years their recruitment has been muddled and misguided, with Aaron Ramsey's fringe squad status the perfect embodiment of that.

    But Dusan Vlahovic's arrival shows there is life in the Old Lady yet, and given the striker's rise to prominence, this move is also potentially massive for Serie A in general.

    Fiorentina hadn't been shy about their desire to cash in on the Serbian, who turned 22 on Friday. They have been very public about how they simply could not afford to lose out on a transfer fee, a situation that was quickly threatening to become a real issue given his contract was due to expire in 2023.

    Pretty much all of Europe's biggest clubs were linked with Vlahovic at some point over the past 12 months, and for a while most people's money would have been on him moving to England.

    "Oh, another emerging talent scurrying off to chase the big bucks of the Premier League, how predictable," many 'calcio' fans were presumably muttering to themselves as… *checks notes*… Arsenal and Tottenham circled.

    As the story reportedly went, Vlahovic's agent didn't seriously consider those two in the end. Whether it might have been a different story for Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United or even Chelsea is unclear, but a coup it remains for Juve.

    Vlahovic's impact on Italian football, particularly over the past 18 months, has been significant. Some have suggested he's Serie A's answer to Erling Haaland – perhaps a slight exaggeration, but there's a reason Juve are investing in a guy who in 2021, let's not forget, became only the second player in the past 60 years to net 33 Serie A goals over a single calendar year.

    Juve's attraction to him makes absolute sense when you consider a metric as reductive – yet, crucial – as goals. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit last year, the Bianconeri were left with a gaping maw in terms of finishing ability. The faith placed in Alvaro Morata to pick up the slack was as optimistic as it was naive, as the Spaniard has five in 22 Serie A games.

    Vlahovic should, in theory, provide them with a number nine who is dedicated to goals. As Fiorentina's focal point this term, he has recorded 87 shots (second-most among Serie A players) and scored 15 non-penalty goals across all competitions.

    Some might point to the fact those 15 strikes are a considerable increase on his non-penalty xG (expected goals) of 10.2, and there's obviously a chance he won't prove to be quite so clinical for Juve, but it clearly shows they are buying a player brimming with belief.

    Similarly, being surrounded by better players in Turin may mean Vlahovic doesn't have to try as many low-xG shots. A quick look at his shot map in Serie A this season shows a significant variation in goal distances, which obviously has an impact on his xG per shot, which is 0.11 (excluding penalties).

    That may not mean anything in isolation, but when you compare that to Tammy Abraham's 0.18, there's quite a gulf. The England striker seems to be better at getting into clear-cut goalscoring situations, but if Vlahovic is already proving this deadly from worse positions, imagine what he could do if he improves.

    It's worth noting that by no means does Vlahovic only have eyes for goal. In fact, among 'conventional' strikers in Serie A this season, only four – and Paulo Dybala, nominally a creator anyway – have had more involvements in shot-ending sequences without taking the shot (45).

    That speaks to Vlahovic's link-up play and his effectiveness at knitting attacks together in the final third, a skill that is not to every striker's liking. Yet he manages to fulfil this function without it being to the detriment of his goals output.

    At Juve, assuming he links up in attack with Dybala, there may be less need for him to get as involved and that could potentially be how he improves his record of getting into higher xG situations.

    It's fair to assume Juve would see that pay dividends on the goals front, given he already only averages 2.2 touches per shot inside the box – that's only fractionally more than Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Haaland (all 2.0), showing how he's more of an instinctive finisher than the likes of Mohamed Salah (3.1) and Kylian Mbappe (3.3), who are more about dribbling and beating defenders.

    The fact is, Vlahovic still has elements to his game that could still improve, yet he's already performing at a high level. He may be young, but Juve have signed a player who can go straight into the team, which will presumably start being built around him.

    Whether Massimiliano Allegri is the right coach for this new Juventus is another debate, but the acquisition of Vlahovic could be a game-changer.

    At the very least, it's a genuine boost for Serie A to keep arguably its finest young player in the league despite the Premier League waving its vast sums in his direction.

    With Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku gone, Vlahovic is surely primed to be Serie A's new poster boy.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.