Novak Djokovic ruined Roger Federer’s ambitions of a 100th career title as he outlasted his great adversary 7-6 (6), 5-7, 7-6 (3) in an epic Paris Masters semi-final that stretched his remarkable unbeaten run to 22 matches.
In a 47th meeting between the two greats, the stubborn Djokovic simply refused to be beaten as he claimed a fourth consecutive victory over Federer in a tie-break decider after three compelling hours. It gave the Serb the opportunity to mark his return to the world No 1 ranking on Monday by winning a record-extending fifth Paris title in Sunday’s final against the Russian Karen Khachanov, who crushed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1.
Djokovic, who had complained of competing with flu-like symptoms in the earlier rounds, looked proud and relieved to repel a wonderful challenge from Federer. Even though the latter’s serve was not broken once, it was still not enough for the 37-year-old, whose nerve failed him in an anti-climactic final tie-break in which he served a double fault and made two more careless groundstroke errors.
Federer, who was seeking to become only the second man after Jimmy Connors to win a century of professional tour titles, lost the first set despite having held set point in the tie-break and had Djokovic in trouble in the final set when the Serb received a code violation at 4-4 for chucking his racket away in disgust after the Swiss had saved two break points. Ultimately, though, Federer, who saved all 12 break points on his serve, saw his resilience ended as Djokovic extended his career lead over the Swiss to 25-22 after their longest-ever three-set duel.
Earlier, Khachanov showed why he is one of the finest young talents in tennis with a thunderous victory over Thiem. The 22-year-old, 6ft 6in Russian, already the owner of two indoor hard court titles this year, moved one step away from the biggest title of his career, crushing his Austrian friend and practice partner in 70 one-sided minutes.
“It was one of my best matches, and what I’m happy about is that I was increasing my level, which shows that I’m becoming a better player,” Khachanov, who reached his first Masters 1000 final, said.
The 18th-ranked Muscovite overpowered a third top-10 player in successive days, having overwhelmed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals and negotiated John Isner’s huge serves in the last 16.
Thiem, the world No 8 who on Friday had booked his place in this month’s ATP Finals in London, was out of sorts and seemed rushed by the depth and power of Khachanov’s groundstrokes. Remarkably, Khachanov broke the Austrian’s powerful serve five times in a row at the end of the first set and throughout a surprisingly one-sided second.