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Djokovic crushes Isner in ATP Finals opener

Novak Djokovic is bidding for a sixth ATP Finals title © AFP / Glyn KIRK

LONDON, United Kingdom, Nov 12 – Novak Djokovic sent out a warning to his rivals at the ATP Finals on Monday, brushing aside big-serving John Isner 6-4, 6-3 to launch his bid for a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title in style.

Earlier, in the same Guga Kuerten group, Alexander Zverev made it six consecutive wins against Marin Cilic in a contest at London’s O2 Arena featuring scores of unforced errors.

World number one Djokovic, though, was playing a different game, appearing little troubled by the howitzers coming off the giant Isner’s racquet — breaking his opponent three times and not conceding a single break point on his own serve.

In stark contrast to second seed Roger Federer, who produced an error-strewn performance in defeat to Kei Nishikori on Sunday, Djokovic hit just six unforced errors and won 86 percent of points on his serve, making a mockery of the apparent challenging nature of the playing surface.

“The match was great, obviously,” said the 31-year-old. “I had three breaks of serve of John which is sometimes mission impossible but I managed to be at the right place at the right time.

“I held serve well, I backed it up from the baseline, I played very solid and didn’t give him many opportunities.”

Speaking about the court conditions, he said: “It takes a little bit of time really to get yourself adjusted to the surface… it takes a lot of rotation, takes a lot of spin. When you serve well, also it accelerates through the court.”

Germany’s Alexander Zverev in action against Croatia’s Marin Cilic at the ATP Finals in London © AFP / Glyn KIRK

With Cristiano Ronaldo watching on, the top seed broke Isner in the fifth game of the first set to establish a stranglehold and never looked like allowing the American eighth seed back into the contest, breaking twice more in the second set to win in 73 minutes.

The Serb is a red-hot favourite to draw level on six titles at the season finale with Federer, who faces an uphill task to reach the semi-finals after his loss in his first round-robin match.

Djokovic, who replaced the injured Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings last week, has stormed up the charts this year following elbow surgery and a period of indifferent form, winning Wimbledon and the US Open along the way.

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Since the start of Wimbledon he has now won 32 out of 34 matches.

– Zverev triumphs –

Earlier, Zverev kept his nerve at the key moments to beat Marin Cilic 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/1), recovering from a break down in each set.

The 30-year-old Cilic, who has a reputation for faltering under intense pressure, broke first but the German hit back, going on to edge the tie-break.

In the second set, the Croatian again drew first blood but third-seed Zverev, 21, responded immediately and dominated the tie-break to seal the match.

There were a total of 78 unforced errors in the contest — with Australian Open finalist Cilic hitting 46 of those — as both players struggled to adapt to the court conditions.

“The court is difficult,” said Zverev. “The court is very fast. And it’s very high-bouncing as well. So, it’s more difficult than in other tournaments, so everybody has to kind of find their rhythm in the first match. ”

The ATP Finals are contested by the eight players who have accumulated the most ranking points over the season and is in a round-robin format, with the best four players reaching the semi-finals.

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