Serbia’s Novak Djokovic

PARIS: Novak Djokovic has sealed the year-end men’s world number one tennis ranking for the sixth time to go level with childhood hero Pete Sampras after closest rival Rafael Nadal opted against playing in the ATP Tour event in Sofia next week. Spain’s 20-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, ranked second, was the only player who had a chance to stop the Serbian from finishing as the top-ranked player in 2020. “Pete was somebody I looked up to when I was growing up, so to match his record is a dream come true” Djokovic said in an ATP statement.

“I will also keep striving to be a better player, hopefully have more success and break more records in a sport I love with all my heart.” During the year Djokovic won the ATP Cup in January before picking up a record-extending eight Australian Open Grand Slam in Melbourne. He also won the Cincinnati Masters and a record 36th ATP Masters title in Rome. In September Djokovic also overtook American Pete Sampras, who ended as No. 1 for six straight years between 1993 and 1998, for the most weeks overall at the top ranking and will begin his 294th week in first spot on Monday.

The 33-year-old Djokovic, the winner of 17 Grand Slam titles, has mentioned that Roger Federer’s record of 310 weeks as No. 1 remains his target and he will have a chance to move past the Swiss on March 8 if he can hold on to his top spot. “To finish the year as No 1 is one of the most impressive achievements in our sport, one which requires sustained excellence across the season,” ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi added. “To see Novak achieve this for the sixth time and match Pete’s record is simply incredible, and he continues to cement his place in the history books.”

Nadal into Bercy last 4
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal came from behind to beat Pablo Carreno Busta and reach the Paris Masters semi-finals on Friday, handing Argentinean Diego Schwartzman the last ATP Tour Finals place in the process. The 20-time Grand Slam champion claimed a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory, ending his fellow Spaniard’s hopes of qualifying for the season-ending tournament in London.

Nadal will play Alexander Zverev for a place in Sunday’s final as he bids to win the trophy for the first time, after the German beat Stan Wawrinka 6-3, 7-6 (7/1). “The thing that really matters to me, I need to return better,” said Nadal. “My serve is working well, I think, so the rest of the game more or less I am playing better and better. “I need to return better if I want to have chances to keep going.” Schwartzman had his fate taken out of his own hands earlier on Friday with a quarter-final thrashing by Daniil Medvedev, who will face Milos Raonic in the other semi-final.

Top seed Nadal, playing his first event since winning a record-extending 13th French Open title across Paris at Roland Garros last month, would equal Novak Djokovic’s record of 36 Masters titles with success this week. The 34-year-old’s best effort at Bercy Arena was a 2007 final loss to David Nalbandian. The world number two was in trouble when facing three break points in the opening game of the second set, but he saved them all before forcing a decider in the 12th game with a brilliant forehand winner.

He capped a dominant third-set display by reeling off five successive games. Fourth seed Zverev reached the semis for the first time by extending his winning streak to 11 matches with a hard-fought success over Wawrinka. The 23-year-old German broke Wawrinka when the Swiss served for the second set before overpowering his opponent in the tie-break. “Definitely happy to be in the semis and it’ll be an interesting one tomorrow (Saturday)… A lot of people are looking forward to that and I am too,” said Zverev, who has a 5-1 losing record against Nadal.

Schwartzman hammered by Medvedev
Russian third seed Medvedev raced to a 6-3, 6-1 win over Schwartzman in just 64 minutes to set up a last-four clash with Milos Raonic, who saved two match points to beat in-form Frenchman Ugo Humbert 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9/7). Schwartzman had to wait for Nadal’s victory to be able to celebrate securing a first ATP Finals appearance. World number five Medvedev, whose seven ATP titles have all come on hard courts, broke Schwartzman’s serve in the third game and did not let up.

Schwartzman never looked like mounting a comeback, winning just one of 28 points on Medvedev’s first serve. “Milos (Raonic) is one of the biggest servers maybe in the history of the sport,” said Medvedev. “So it’s not going to be that easy, but for sure when you play indoor hard courts you need to serve well.” The Tour Finals, being played in London for the last time before moving to Turin, get underway on November 15. Canadian Raonic hammered 25 aces in a typically strong serving display, but had to battle back from the brink of defeat in a deciding-set tie-break against Humbert.

The 22-year-old Humbert was on an eight-match winning streak after triumphing in his last tournament in Antwerp. But Raonic saved a match point on his opponent’s serve after a remarkable 30-shot rally, before some big serves saw him over the finish line. The former Wimbledon runner-up, who lost the 2014 Paris Masters final to Novak Djokovic, has been beaten in both of his previous meetings with Medvedev. “It’s going to be a tough one, he’s been playing especially well this week,” Raonic said. “I’ve just got to be sharp and take care of my serve.”- Agencies