Novak Djokovic said he took plenty of positives from his defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Mubdala World Tennis Championship semi-final on Friday.
Djokovic, the four-time and defending MWTC champion, suffered his first loss at the pre-season tournament in Abu Dhabi, going down 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 to the Greek world No 6. The Serb’s only other loss at MWTC came in the form of a walkover in the 2015 final.
Djokovic looked to have set up a routine win after clinching the first set having raced into a 5-1 lead. However, the momentum swung the way of Tsitsipas, who claimed his own 5-1 lead in the second set before Djokovic fought back to force the tie-break. A solitary break in the first game of the deciding set was all Tsitsipas needed as the rest of the match went with serve until the Greek closed out the victory with a love-hold.
“It was a two-hour match so there was a lot of great exchanges and great rallies,” Djokovic, 32, said. “I’m actually very pleased with the way I’m moving on the court, but I still feel that I have a couple more gears I will be working on in the next couple of weeks.
“The aim is to hit my best possible form just before the Australian Open or even for the ATP Cup. The off-season wasn’t that long, and I only recently started playing tennis again, so it was positive.”
Tsitsipas has proved a formidable foe for Djokovic on the ATP Tour. The pair have met four times over the past two seasons, sharing two wins each. The most recent meeting, however, was a one-sided drubbing as Djokovic ran out a 6-1, 6-2 winner at the Paris Masters quarter-finals, and Tsitispas admitted he had flashbacks to that match when he was trailing 5-1 on Friday.
"The beginning of the match wasn't the best, I found myself getting reminded of Paris," the 21-year-old ATP Finals champion said. "I got a bit angry at myself and I wanted to change something and to prove that I was better than this.
“Being a bit more relaxed helped to raise my level and allowed me to play more consistent. It was a good first battle after a long time and we both played a high quality of tennis. In the previous match we didn’t have such long rallies or so much strategy involved, so I needed to use my brain today.”
The challenge doesn’t come any easier for Tsitsipas in the final, where he meets world No 1 Rafael Nadal, who was a comfortable 6-1, 6-3 winner over Karen Khachanov in Friday’s second semi-final.
“[Nadal] hits the ball so hard and he moves very well so I think he’s one of the most difficult players to beat,” Tsitsipas said. “You always have to have a sixth sense to do something against him and that is when you have to use your mental power and your abilities, and that is what makes him so difficult to beat.”