TURIN (Italy) • Top-ranked Novak Djokovic yesterday commenced his bid to join Roger Federer on a record six ATP Finals titles by beating Casper Ruud 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 in his opening match.
The Norwegian put up stiff resistance against the 20-time Grand Slam winner as the first set went to a tiebreak but the Serb exerted his will in the second to grab his 39th Finals win, tying Ivan Lendl's mark.
Federer still holds the record at 59 victories, ahead of the duo, who are joint-second on the list.
Djokovic had been in high spirits the night before after Serbia qualified for the 2022 World Cup, with a video posted on his Instagram stories showing him screaming in delight and giving shout-outs to several Serbian footballers.
"It's a great feeling being back here in Italy... thanks for all your support over these years, Italy is like a second home for me," the 34-year-old said.
"It's one of the most difficult things to do in our sport, to finish No. 1 at the end of the year you have to play really well, consistently and with a lot of success throughout the year on every surface. I'm very proud."
In contrast, Matteo Berrettini broke down in tears on Sunday after an abdominal injury forced him to retire from his opening match against German Alexander Zverev, casting doubt over his participation in the rest of the event.
The Italian was losing 6-7 (7-9), 1-0 when he was forced to pull out. Earlier this year, the Wimbledon finalist was sidelined for two months due to an abdominal injury he suffered at the Australian Open in February and he was unsure if it was a recurrence of the same problem.
"It is mentally really tough for me because I used to have an injury close to the same area, so it is tough to play," Berrettini, making his second appearance at the ATP Finals, said after the match.
Calling it the "worst day" of his career, the 25-year-old, who had been hoping to put on a show for the home fans, added: "My team and the doctor will do some checks and I hope it won't be something that won't let me play the next two matches."
If Berrettini, who is scheduled to play Pole Hubert Hurkacz today, is not fit enough to continue in the tournament, fellow Italian Jannik Sinner will replace him as the first alternate.
At the WTA Finals, two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza booked her spot in the last four on Sunday, with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Anett Kontaveit that ended the already-qualified Estonian's 12-match victory streak.
The Spaniard will take on compatriot Paula Badosa today, a match-up which she predicted would be "amazing".
Separately, Swiss legend Federer is unlikely to play in January's Australian Open but is still determined to make a return to tournament tennis at some stage, according to his coach Ivan Ljubicic.
The former world No. 3 yesterday said the signs were not promising. He added: "(Federer) will go step by step... he is 40 years old now and he needs to be patient."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS