Novak Djokovic edged an epic semi-final at the Paris Masters as he defeated Roger Federer 7-6(6) 5-7 7-6(3).
Federer saved two match points but could not prevent himself slipping to a fourth straight loss to Djokovic, who advances into the final against unseeded Russian Karen Khachanov, who has never played in a Masters final.
Earlier, Khachanov continued his strong recent form by beating Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-1 in just 71 minutes.
Djokovic, who beat Khachanov on the way to winning the Wimbledon title this summer, is seeking a record-extending fifth Paris Masters title.
The match between two players with a combined 34 Grand Slam titles and 59 Masters titles lived up to expectations as they slugged it out in unrelenting intensity.
Brilliant one-handed winners on the run from Federer and acute-angle volleys at the net were matched by tireless retrieving from the baseline and laser-beam forehands to the lines from Djokovic.
Djokovic briefly let his temper get the better of him when he had Federer at 15-40 down in the ninth game of the deciding set. Federer saved both break points, prompting Djokovic to smash his racket into the ground.
Djokovic created pressure throughout but Federer saved every break point – all 12 of them – and secured the only break of the match in clinching the second set.
Nadal has pulled out of the final tournament of the regular season due to an abdominal injury, meaning the Serbian ends his two-year absence from the top of the pile when the new list is published on Monday.
Djokovic, who has won Wimbledon and the US Open in the last four months, was memorably disposed as world number one by Andy Murray in the French capital in 2016.
Nadal has not played since the US Open in September, when he suffered a knee injury in the semi-final and his comeback has been now been curtailed.
The Spaniard has not revealed whether he will play in next week’s ATP Tour Finals in London.
He said in a press conference in Paris: “I arrived here a couple of days ago, as everyone knows I have been outside of the competition since the US Open.
“I took time off, I came back and it was great to be in Paris for a couple of days and practise with the guys.
“I enjoyed it, I feel, in terms of tennis, better than what I thought one week ago, but in the last few days I started to feel a little bit abdominal (pain), especially when serving. I checked with the doctor and the doctor recommended I did not play.”
In the early action on Wednesday, Kei Nishikori and John Isner kept their hopes of gatecrashing the Tour Finals alive with victories.
Nishikori beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 7-5 6-4 while Isner battled past Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-7 (2) 7-6 (1).
Fourth seed Alexander Zverev booked his place in the next round with a 6-4 6-4 win over Frances Tiafoe.
There were also wins for Grigor Dimitrov and Kevin Anderson, who saw off Roberto Bautista Agut and Nikoloz Basilashvili respectively.
Roger Federer, fresh from his recent title in Basel, made it through to the third round without playing after second-round opponent Milos Raonic pulled out.
Milos Raonic withdraws from #RolexParisMasters with a right elbow injury - handing Roger Federer a walk-over into the third round.— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 31, 2018
Federer will face Fognini or Fucsovics on Thursday.
Jack Sock, defending champion, beat Richard Gasquet, Dominic Thiem ended the hopes of another home favourite Gilles Simon and Diego Schwartzman ended Feliciano Lopez’s hopes.
Malek Jaziri was the beneficiary of Nadal’s withdrawal and he made the most of it, beating Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in three sets.
Borna Coric was a straight sets winner over Russian Daniil Medvedev.
Provided by Press Association Sport
The latest new addition to the world’s top-10, Daria Kasatkina has one more chance to finish her season on a high when she takes to the court on Tuesday as the top seed of the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai.
The victory gave her a place in the top-10 for the first time and sent her to Singapore as an alternate for the WTA Finals. With no withdrawals occurring, Kasatkina did not get to compete in Singapore, but she did get to explore the city, do some shopping, and more importantly spend hours on the practice court with her coach Philippe Dehaes in preparation for her last event in Zhuhai.
The young Russian, who has her own unique brand of creative tennis, is one of the now famous Generation ’97 that has taken the tour by storm over the past two seasons.
She reached the finals in Dubai and Indian Wells earlier in the year, before scooping the second WTA title of her career in Moscow less than two weeks ago.
Kasatkina has posted seven top-10 victories in 2018 – only four players have claimed more – and reached back-to-back quarter-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) October 25, 2018
Her Kremlin Cup title triumph in Moscow of course stands out as a season highlight for her, and she spent the following week in Singapore unwinding from her emotionally-draining run on home soil.
“Very, very emotional, yeah a lot of things happened during that week and I’m really happy that I won the tournament I was dreaming to win since I was a kid. It was the last year where they were playing it at the Olimpiyskiy, so it was really special for me,” Kasatkina told Sport360 in Singapore.
Kasatkina was down 2-6, 1-4 against an in-form Jabeur in the Moscow final, but yet another magical speech from her coach Dehaes helped her turn things around and win the match in three sets.
Their post-victory embrace said it all.
“To be honest, I cried a little bit when she came to my arm and started to cry a lot, so I was a little bit shocked,” Dehaes told reporters in Singapore of that moment in the stands in Moscow.
“You work a lot during the year. You sacrifice a lot of things. Me, personally, I have family, I have kids and I don’t see them a lot. You work, we went through a very difficult summer. So it’s a lot of hours of difficulties where you ask a lot of questions, and then you have this moment when you win the last point and she win the title. It’s exactly what you expect.
“So it was just great. And these few seconds of huge emotion refilled the battery for sure for another year, for sure.”
Down 6-2, 4-1 down, a despondent Daria Kasatkina called out Philippe Dehaes @tennisrussia.
Here’s what he said: pic.twitter.com/K6VuDIjM8A
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 20, 2018
It wasn’t the first time this season where Kasatkina executed an improbably comeback in a high-stakes situation.
In Dubai, she saved match points in victories over Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza en route to the final. She was two points away from defeat to Venus Williams in the Indian Wells semi-finals but rallied back to defeat the American veteran and advance to the final.
“I don’t know, it seems like I won 90 per cent of my matches losing very badly,” admits Kasatkina.
“I don’t know why but when I’m losing, out of nowhere I start to play better because I don’t have pressure anymore on my shoulders because I kind of accept to lose then I start to play better.”
She ranks her comeback against Jabeur among “the top three” of her career and is proud of the level of play there were both able to produce.
It was a clash described by many as one of the most entertaining of the year, but while it was unfolding, Kasatkina didn’t grasp just how good the match was.
“Sometimes you feel, sometimes not. During this match I was very nervous so I didn’t feel it. I was just really so nervous. The only thing I was thinking about was how to come back in this match,” she recalls.
“Then my coach came to the court and I came back of course. The match was unbelievable, the scenario of the match was amazing, especially in a final. I think everyone enjoyed it.
“I think it was very important because we were playing not the usual women’s tennis. We showed very interesting points, especially Ons, she was just on fire. I was pissed sometimes of course because she was doing the things I love to do. I think it was very interesting to watch.”
Kasatkina year-end top-10 position is not officially secure yet as she takes on a stellar field in Zhuhai that includes the likes of Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka, and defending champion Julia Goerges.
“I didn’t finish the year in the top-10 yet. I was happy two days ago but now I kind of forgot about it because I still have one more tournament to go and I’m focusing on it,” she says.
While she admits she still has a lot to work on, Kasatkina is pleased with what she’s achieved this season. During this first year of their partnership, Dehaes has wrestled with the balance of preserving her artistic tendencies, while adding discipline to her game.
An incredibly emotional @DKasatkina greets her team.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 20, 2018
“She’s an artist, and for me I see it like this, because she can do crazy things, so she has to keep going to do this. I told her, ‘If you win like an artist, you have to accept to lose like an artist’,” said the Belgian coach.
“And today the loss was not enough like an artist. So I changed a little bit my philosophy on court to bring her a little bit more solidity and more easy understanding how she has to play. And to keep this artistic way to play a little bit for later, to make it more simple, more solid, with a touch of artistic, for sure, but more simple.”
Kasatkina, who opens her Zhuhai campaign against Wang Qiang on Tuesday, said: “Basically at the beginning of the year I had the goal to finish in the top-15. So I reached my goal and the higher I will stay in the rankings, the better for me. I’m pretty happy with my results this year, of course I had some ups and downs but at the end I’m happy.”
That happiness counts for a lot in Dehaes’ book. He notes that there is still much to improve but commends his charge’s commitment and willingness to put in the work.
“There is a big gap in everything. The ranking is great, but I have the feeling that all the weakness she has can be, if she improve them, can bring her much higher,” he explains.
“I’m very proud of the commitment she has every day. She wants to play. It’s not easy every day, because it’s a young girl. She’s only 21. She has a lot of pressure. Sometimes it’s quite tough to find the motivation. But she keeps this. She is the leader in this business. She wants to do the job, which is, for me, the most important.
“I don’t have the feeling this year that one morning she wake up unhappy to go on court. Australian series was not so good, and then we have a very good period until Wimbledon. And then, also because she increased the ranking, and when you increase the ranking like this, you have to take time to digest a little bit, because she put in her head, okay, she was 11 or 12, maybe I cannot lose anymore against girls between 15 and 20 and 25, which is, it’s not like this, but it came to her head, she started to count about the Masters [qualification points for the WTA Finals] because, hmm, I’m not so far, maybe blah, blah, blah. And then she started to play the match like I don’t want to lose the match. So it was tough for her, this moment.
“It’s the process. She is in the process to learn. She really deserves this title [in Moscow], because she put a lot of effort on it, so I’m very happy. For sure, this is great. But what she did in the French Open and in Wimbledon, and especially to go back to the quarter-final at Wimbledon after the French, it’s great.”