Djokovic on the brink of “dream” accolade in Vienna

The 17-time Grand Slam champion is chasing one of his childhood idols for a record-equalling sixth year-end No.1 ranking.

Novak Djokovic Roland-Garros 20202©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Just over a fortnight ago Novak Djokovic was emphatically swept aside in straight sets by Rafael Nadal in the Roland-Garros final.

Instead of closing the gap to men’s all-time major leader Roger Federer (20), Djokovic succumbed to the ‘King of Clay’ to enable Nadal to level with the Swiss maestro.

Djokovic is now three Grand Slams behind his fellow ‘Big Three’ rivals, however the 33-year-old has proven throughout his gladiatorial career he is the master at dealing with adversity, dusting himself down for the next goal.

The Serbian has headed to Vienna to chase another piece of history. 

The top seed is back in the Austrian capital for the first time since his title run in 2007 and is seeking a record tying sixth year-end No.1 ranking.

Should Djokovic prevail past Borna Coric on Thursday, he’ll match one of his childhood heroes Pete Sampras for the most times finishing the ATP season top of the pile. 

Pete was someone I was looking up to growing up. To match his record would definitely be a dream come true. I’m hopefully going to get there,” stated the Serbian, who is currently tied on five year-end No.1 finishes with Federer, Nadal and Jimmy Connors. 

I’m going to keep striving to be a better player and to hopefully make more success, and write more records in the sport that I truly love with all my heart.

Djokovic Sampras Indian Wells 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

On court on Tuesday, the world No.1 overcame a sharp start from compatriot and close friend Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-3 to bolster his staggering 2020 match record to 38-2. 

39 winners propelled the 33-year-old to victory despite a 3-5 deficit in the first set. Krajinovic held a set point at 6-5, before being hauled into an opening tie-break.

The duo regularly practice together, for instance in Belgrade last week, and their knowledge of each other’s game was evident in a catalogue of cat and mouse rallies.

Ultimately an overheard error at 6-6 in the breaker cost world No.30 Krajinovic, prior to Djokovic lifting his level. 

First set, I think he was the better player. He was serving for the first set and I was lucky,” admitted Djokovic during his on-court interview.

In the second set, I stepped it up, I played better and I am just pleased with the way I finished the match.

“We are good friends, we train together a lot and it is never easy to play someone that you are very close to. I try to be there as a friend, as a mentor. We go back a long way.

One match left to equal Sampras

Standing in the way of the Serbian joining Sampras in the history books is world No.24 Borna Coric in their last 16 tussles. 

The Croatian, who earned his second-round ticket 6-4, 6-4 against Taylor Fritz, hasn’t taken a set off Djokovic in their previous encounters, with the 17-time major winner holding a 3-0 head-to-head record. 

Their most recent match was a straight sets triumph in the 2018 Shanghai Masters final.

Further into the draw and Djokovic is seeking his fifth piece of silverware for the season. Over on the other side of the draw is defending champion Dominic Thiem.

The top two seeds hit together earlier in the week in Vienna but can’t meet in competition until the trophy showdown.

We had a practice (Monday) and we were so intense that I was thinking we were already playing the final,” joked Djokovic, who last faced the Austrian in a blockbuster five-set Australian Open final in February

I respect Dominic so much and what he has done for tennis is tremendous, especially this year obviously winning his first Grand Slam. He deserves it more than anybody else. He’s a hard worker, a great guy with a great team. Hopefully we can have that chance to play.

“Obviously that’s probably something that the people would want to see here, but it’s a long way away. The field is very strong, so we have to take one day at a time.