Novak Djokovic suffers season’s first defeat

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts during his match with Russia's Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship semi-final match in Dubai on 3 March 2023AFP

Daniil Medvedev appears to have returned to his best form as he ended Novak Djokovic’s undefeated 15-0 start to the season with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the world number one on Friday.

After briefly dropping outside the top 10 for the first time since July 2019, Medvedev has stormed back into that elite ranking bracket, winning his last 13 matches – within an 18-day period – to set up an all-Russian Dubai final against defending champion Andrey Rublev.

Medvedev had lost his last four meetings with Djokovic, who was on a 20-match win streak stretching back to last year’s ATP Finals, coming into the contest.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic congratulates Russia's Daniil Medvedev after their ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship semi-final

The 27-year-old is looking to win a third title in as many weeks, having picked up trophies in Rotterdam and Doha in the build-up to Dubai.

“Every time I beat Novak is an amazing feeling. He’s probably the greatest tennis player of all time,” said Medvedev.

“Every time it gives you an extra boost of confidence, like, ‘Wow, I was able to beat Novak, I can for sure beat anybody’.”

Djokovic lamented his 14 unforced errors, twice as many as his opponent, but said he walks away from Dubai with lots of positives, feeling strong physically after recovering from a tear in his left hamstring.

His participation at Indian Wells which starts on March 8 remains in doubt as the Serb, who has not been vaccinated against coronavirus, waits to hear if he has been granted a visa waiver to the US.

“I’m still waiting for the news from America,” he said.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic hits a return against Russia's Daniil Medvedev

“If there’s no America, I guess I’ll play clay. Monte Carlo is probably the next tournament. If that’s the case, I’ll take some time off, I’ll prepare.”

Djokovic will know one way or the other on his chances of playing in the United States on Monday when the draw for the Indian Wells event takes place.

In front of a full house in Dubai, Medvedev opened up a double-break lead and despite Djokovic slowing him down by getting one of the breaks back, the world number seven successfully served out the 39-minute set on his second attempt.

Djokovic repeatedly overhit his forehand, which helped Medvedev claim an early break in the second set.

Rublev ‘happy’

Medvedev maintained his advantage and got his first match point with a drop shot that sent the crowd to its feet.

The ex-world number one capitalised on his first opportunity to book his place in the final.

He takes a 4-2 head-to-head record lead over Rublev into their Saturday showdown.

This week, Rublev is trying to successfully defend one of his 12 career titles for the first time.

Russia's Daniil Medvedev serves to Serbia's Novak Djokovic

The Russian second seed punched his ticket to the championship match with his first-ever victory in six tour-level meetings with Alexander Zverev.

Benefitting from 39 unforced errors off the Zverev racquet, Rublev needed six match points to defeat the former US Open finalist 6-3, 7-6 (11/9) in just under two hours.

The pair traded breaks early on before Rublev consolidated for 4-2 and the Russian fired a brutal forehand winner to close out the opening set in 47 minutes.

It was the first set Rublev had ever taken off Zverev at tour level. He was 0-11 in sets against the German coming into the clash.

The second set witnessed no breaks of serve as Zverev saved match point in the 12th game, and struck back-to-back aces to hold for 6-all.

The No.7 seed saved five more match points in the breaker but Rublev converted his sixth to reach a second consecutive Dubai final.

“I’m happy that I was stable today mentally, especially on the tiebreak that I was able to be there, to play well,” said Rublev.