Novak Djokovic reaches Paris Masters final to end record 7th year as No. 1

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic will end the year at No. 1 for a record seventh time after rallying to beat Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (5) in the Paris Masters semifinals.

Djokovic, who also stays on course for a record-extending sixth Paris Masters title, moved one ahead of American Pete Sampras, who secured his six top year-end finishes from 1993-98.

“I’m very proud to finish the season as No. 1,” Djokovic said. “It’s a dream, honestly, because Sampras was such an idol for me when I was young. He motivated me to pick up the racket and try this sport.”

Djokovic also finished the year top in 2011-12, 2014-15, 2018 and 2020.

“It’s a huge achievement, obviously,” Djokovic said. “To make the historic seventh time … (I am) overwhelmed with all the beautiful, positive emotions.”

Djokovic eclipsed Roger Federer’s all-time mark of 310 weeks at No. 1 on March 8 and will finish 2021 having held the top ranking for 348 weeks.

Another win on Sunday will give Djokovic a record 37th Masters title to move one clear of fellow 20-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal.

The top-ranked Serb has also reached a record-extending seventh final here, where he faces Russian Daniil Medvedev after losing to him in straight sets in the U.S. Open final two months ago. Djokovic had not played since.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to turn the tables,” Djokovic said.

Second-seeded Medvedev routed No. 4 Alexander Zverev – the Olympic champion – 6-2, 6-2 for a fourth straight win against him, having also beaten him in last year’s final. They are now 5-5 overall.

Medvedev, the defending champion, was clinical.

He sealed the first set at the first go when Zverev returned his strong second serve into the net and victory on his first match point at 40-15 when Zverev could only pat a strong serve wide.

Djokovic leads Medvedev 5-4 overall. They have split the last two meetings, both majors, with Djokovic winning in straight sets in the Australian Open final this year.

“He’s been playing fantastic tennis, he’s back at his best,” Djokovic said. “He’s not missing much and serving big, it seems like he’s finding the groove.”

Djokovic was in his 71st Masters semifinal and Hurkacz just his second.

But Hurkacz forged the first break point of the match in the eighth game and took it with a backhand volley at the net for 5-3.

Djokovic had a chance to break back with Hurkacz 30-40 down in the next game, but the Serb made two sloppy unforced errors and Hurkacz took the first set on his second set point with a strong first serve that Djokovic returned long.

Djokovic hit back in an imperious second set and took control of the decider with a strong service game to move 4-1 up.

But Djokovic’s double-fault in the seventh game gave Hurkacz two break points. Djokovic sarcastically applauded the crowd after some of them had cheered his double-fault.

“In the heat of the battle, things can happen. People get involved in the match,” Djokovic said. “Of course I did not like that … It’s not the first time, probably not the last time.”

The Parisian crowd had also loudly cheered errors and double-faults from players who were up against Frenchman Hugo Gaston on Thursday and Friday.

“Obviously playing against a French player is a whole different atmosphere,” Djokovic said. “You could see that both (Carlos) Alcaraz and Medvedev were feeling uncomfortable on the court with that crowd being involved so much and being loud.”

Djokovic was much more comfortable holding for a 5-4 lead, and sat in a meditative pose during the changeover.

Serving to stay in the match, Hurkacz was at deuce when Djokovic edged a 25-shot rally to forge a first match point.

He saved it on second serve when Djokovic’s backhand landed just wide. He then held with an ace for 5-5.

The tiebreaker was close at 5-5 when Hurkacz’s loose forehand into the net gave Djokovic a second match point and he clinched victory when Hurkacz’s sliced backhand at full stretch landed just wide.

Djokovic beat his chest three times and let out a roar as he celebrated his victory, then applauded his opponent off court.

Hurkacz broke into the Top 10 for the first time last month and has qualified for the eight-man season-ending ATP Finals, which start on Nov. 14 in Turin.

Djokovic will also be looking for a record-equaling sixth ATP Finals title to tie with Federer.

Gilbert Klier Junior hit with 12-month doping ban

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LONDON — Brazilian Gilbert Klier Junior, a bronze medalist at the 2018 Youth Olympics, has been banned for 12 months in a doping case, the International Tennis Integrity Agency said.

The ITIA said it had accepted that Klier Junior had not deliberately doped and that the banned substance SARM S-22 had entered his body through a contaminated supplement. However, it said he bore some responsibility, especially “following other high profile cases involving Brazilian tennis players and other sports people.”

The 22-year-old Klier Junior has a career high ranking of 354th and won bronze in the singles event at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

The ban was backdated to start from last June, when Klier Junior was first suspended from competition while the case was resolved.

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.