Novak Djokovic out-battled Alexander Zverev to qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Friday, staying on track to match Roger Federer’s record of six titles at the end-of-season event.
The Serbian top seed, who was beaten comprehensively by Daniil Medvedev in his second round-robin match, was again below his best at London’s O2 Arena but did enough to win 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).
The five-time winner finishes second in Group Tokyo 2020 behind Medvedev and will play third-seed Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Second-seed Rafael Nadal, seeking his first win at the elite eight-man event, will face Medvedev in the other semi-final after finishing second in Group London 2020.
Djokovic broke Germany’s Zverev at the first time of asking in the empty stadium and raced into a 3-0 lead, threatening to run away with the match — a repeat of the 2018 final, which Zverev won in straight sets.
The 33-year-old looked focused after his uncharacteristic mauling by Medvedev, serving himself out of trouble when he found himself trailing 15-40 in the seventh game.
That proved to be the last chance for Zverev in the set and 17-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic hammered a backhand winner down the line to take it 6-3.
Djokovic handed Zverev a break point in the fourth game of the second set after double-faulting but the German could not capitalise.
The 23-year-old fifth seed saved two break points on his serve in the following game, letting out a roar as he kept his nose in front.
The set went to a tie-break. Zverev earned an early mini-break but Djokovic levelled and the pressure was back on the German, who faltered to hand the Serbian victory.
Djokovic, who recently equalled Pete Sampras’s record of six year-end number one finishes, has the chance to end the coronavirus-truncated 2020 season on a high by joining the absent Federer on six titles.
Medvedev will take on eighth-seed Diego Schwartzman, in the evening match, which is a dead rubber.
The O2 Arena is hosting the event for the 12th and final season before the championships move to Turin.