Novak Djokovic advanced to the championship match of the 2015 ATP World Tour Finals with a straight-sets victory (6-3, 6-3) over Rafael Nadal at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday.
Djokovic looked the fresher player after having Friday off while Nadal needed three hard-fought sets to knock off David Ferrer. The semifinal marked the 46th career meeting between the superstars, and the Serbian sensation's victory leveled the all-time series at 23 wins apiece.
The top-ranked player in the world admitted coming into the match that his form wasn't exactly where he wanted it heading into the semis. Yet, he still had hope everything would come together and allow him to end the season on a high note, per Greg Garber of ESPN.com.
"The last two matches haven't been on the level desired, but still managed to win two and lose one and I'm in semifinals," Djokovic said. "With the amount of wins I had this year, with the quality of tennis that I've played, I'm going to approach that match really optimistically as I always do."
He certainly came out firing on all cylinders as he raced out to a quick 3-0 lead in the opening set. He struck the ball crisply off both wings and his deep returns were giving Nadal a lot of trouble, as noted by Simon Cambers of the Guardian:
Djokovic rolled through the remaining portion of the first set after taking command early. Nadal, who's shown plenty of promising signs in recent events after a lackluster 2015 by his standards, struggled mightily to find any type of rhythm.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times explained the grind-it-out style these matches typically take on was missing in action as "Djoker" cruised:
Ravi Ubha provided high praise for the top seed:
It was more of the same in the second set. Nadal gave everything he had left to remain competitive, but Djokovic managed to get a break in fifth game and never looked back. He stayed a step ahead of his Spanish counterpart until the end.
The 10-time major champion played exactly the type of match he was looking for after a couple of shaky moments during the group stage. He played efficient tennis, severely limited the number of good looks for Nadal and got off the court quickly to save energy. An all-around solid performance.
Matt Cronin of Tennis Reporters summed up the win:
Juan Jose Vallejo of USA Today passed along some eye-popping stats about the quality of Djokovic's victories throughout the 2015 campaign:
Djokovic moves on to face either Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka in the final.
It will be an intriguing battle either way. A matchup with Federer would garner more headlines given the duo's long history, which includes a slight 22-21 edge for the Swiss star. But Wawrinka is the only player to beat Djokovic in a major this season, a four-set triumph in the French Open final.
That said, if Djokovic can play like he did during Saturday's semifinal, and throughout most of 2015 for that matter, he'll be incredibly tough to beat. His ability to strike the ball so purely off both wings while playing elite defense allows him to dominate just about anybody when in top form.
Afterward, Nadal credited his opponent for terrific play and hoped for a different outcome when they square off in 2016, as relayed by Douglas Robson of the New York Times:
TalkSport provided remarks from Djokovic about his winning effort.
"It was a great performance from the very beginning," he said. "I was trying to be aggressive and dictate the play, and I managed to pull out my best game when it was needed the most."
When asked who he'd rather face in the final, he sidestepped the question with a joke, which Nicolas Atkin of ESPN UK highlighted:
All told, Djokovic will enter the final as the favorite regardless of which players comes out on top in the other semifinal. A victory Sunday would cap an outstanding season of tennis from start to finish.