The ATP World Tour Finals reward close attention because nearly every match is quality: the top eight players in the world do a little round robin, then a little elimination, with year-end rankings at stake. So far, no one in that elite field has beaten Novak Djokovic, who withstood Milos Raonic’s assault today to win 7-6(6), 7-6(5), and improve to 2-0 in London.
Both sets went to a tiebreak, but for very different reasons. The first stayed neck-and-neck as Raonic’s serve looked untouchable; the second saw both players breaking serve twice, a frazzled Djokovic tensing up and ceding his early lead, and a confident Raonic exploiting that with some timely shot-making.
That same taste for shot-making may have unwound him. Raonic gambled on a down-the-line forehand winner on set point, but missed, and in the tiebreak Djokovic just closed it out. He can thank his perfect feel for pulling off the match’s best shot, a backhand half-volley that evened up the tiebreak at 5-5. Raonic dumped the ball at his opponent’s feet, but Djokovic shoveled it back so deftly that Raonic couldn’t even react to a ball a few feet away from him.
Djokovic is now 8-0 against Raonic, and with two wins already in this round-robin phase, he becomes the first player to qualify for the semifinals of the event, no matter the result of his third match against Gael Monfils. Monfils, panting towards the finish line of his career year, settled at the bottom of the heap after notching his second loss today against Dominic Thiem, and is unlikely to pose a threat.
Tomorrow’s singles slate is Andy Murray vs. Kei Nishikori, and Marin Cilic vs. Stan Wawrinka. Whoever emerges from that group will be the first to challenge Djokovic, who looks intent on wrenching the No. 1 ranking back from Murray.