Recognized as the most consistent player in the last decade, Novak Djokovic has been the toughest player to beat, both for the upcoming youngsters and experienced veterans who couldn't match his quickness or shotmaking abilities.
In the last half a decade or so, many players have experienced the "second youth" after turning 30, taking care of their bodies and doing everything right to extend the career and keep their ranking on a decent level.
Before this week, Novak Djokovic had lost only two matches against the rivals who turned 35 and it was Roger Federer who raised the bar at the ATP Finals, toppling the Serb in the round-robin stage and becoming the oldest player with a win over a 16-time Major champion at the age of 38 years and three months!
Back in 2015, Novak kicked off the season in Doha and lost in the quarter-final to Ivo Karlovic 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in two hours and 16 minutes, with the veteran scoring one of his best triumphs ever against world no. 1. At the age of 35 years and ten months, Ivo became the oldest player with a victory over Novak, never facing a break point and surviving despite being two points away from losing in the second set tie break.
Struggling to find his shots in the windy conditions, Djokovic got broken in the seventh game of the final set to propel Ivo towards the finish line and experience an unexpected loss. A similar one came this year at Indian Wells when the 35-year-old Philipp Kohlschreiber toppled Novak 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 38 minutes.
The encounter had to be interrupted on Monday night due to rain in the second game and it was like Djokovic got sick in the meanwhile, playing with no energy and way below his best to suffer the second defeat of the season after Doha.
Philipp knew how to impose his advantages, reducing the number of errors and having the upper hand in the more extended exchanges to bring the match home in style and advance into the last 16. The German fended off four out of five break chances and won 40% of the return points, enough for three breaks and a notable victory, his 83rd at the Masters 1000 level.
Philipp saved two break points on the previous night before they had to leave the court and another one at 2-3 with a beautiful forehand down the line winner once they continued on the next day. The German broke Novak in the next game after a well-constructed attack and another forehand winner, holding at 30 with a service winner in game ten for a 6-4 in 53 minutes.
The second set was more fluid and it started with another break for the veteran in game two when Djokovic sprayed a forehand error. Unable to find any rhythm on the return, Novak fell 5-2 down when he gave serve away in game seven following another forehand error, managing to pull one break back in game eight to reduce the deficit.
Serving for the triumph in game ten, Philipp wrapped it up with a forehand winner, becoming one of the oldest players in the Open era with a win over the world no. 1 rival. Ivo and Philipp were 35 when they managed to defeat Novak Djokovic but there is another veteran who wanted to beat the Serb badly after five straight losses, with Roger Federer getting the opportunity to oust Novak and become the oldest player with a win over his great rival.
The Swiss missed a chance at Wimbledon where he squandered two match points, returning stronger at the ATP Finals to top the charts at the age of 38 years and three months! Federer needed just 73 minutes to dismiss the Serb and race towards the semi-final in London, scoring the first triumph over Novak in four years and delivering one of the best performances against one of his biggest rivals.
Novak played on a very high level in the first match against Matteo Berrettini before letting victory slip out from his hands versus Dominic Thiem, having to beat Roger to secure the place in the semis and add 200 extra points to his tally that would have kept him in contention for that year-end no.
1 spot. Instead of that, the Serb delivered a shaky performance to stay way below Roger's level, holding his right elbow occasionally and looking flat and empty on the court, with nothing to challenge an inspired rival.
Djokovic served at 74% but that wasn't enough to keep him safe, facing seven break chances and giving serve away three times to propel Roger through. Federer blasted a service winner in almost every second point on serve, having a massive advantage in the shortest range up to four strokes and staying on the same level with Novak in the rallies that passed the fourth or fifth stroke to finish the encounter with 23 winners and only five unforced errors.
Djokovic had to defend a break chance in the very first game of the clash, erasing it after forcing an error from Federer and holding with a service winner to avoid an early setback. Roger made a comfortable hold in game two with an ace and broke Novak at love in game three for a massive boost.
From 30-15 down in the next game, Federer fired three service winners to confirm the advantage, landing four more direct points in game six to stay in front and moving 5-3 in front with four booming serves in game eight.
Novak held from 30-0 down in the next game to prolong the set before Roger secured the opener with four winners a few minutes later for a 6-4 after 35 minutes, looking better and better on the court and hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter.
Djokovic repelled two break points in the first game of the second set and created that only chance on the return at 2-1, denied by a winner at the net from Federer who broke at 15 in the next game for a huge step towards the finish line.
The Swiss held at 30 in game six and landed four winners two games later for a 5-3, forcing Novak to serve for staying in the match. Ready to seal the deal as quickly as possible, Roger grabbed another break to move over the top and advance into the 16th semi-final from 17 appearances at the ATP Finals.