Djokovic resists 'suffocating' Rublev to book Dimitrov title clash
Novak Djokovic rallied to defeat Andrey Rublev 5-7, 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 in a gripping Paris Masters semi-final on Saturday, earning a shot at a record-extending seventh title in the final against Grigor Dimitrov.
The world number one relied on his unflinching powers of recovery to work his way back from a set down before sealing victory when fifth seed Rublev doubled-faulted on match point.
"Rublev was suffocating me like a snake suffocates a frog for most of the match," said Djokovic.
"He was playing an extremely high level that he possesses, but today he was off the charts, honestly. I don't think I've ever faced Rublev this good."
Djokovic remains undefeated in nine semi-final appearances at Bercy and stretched his winning run to 17 matches -- a streak which includes his record-tying 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open.
His only defeat in his last 31 matches was a five-set loss to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final, which ruined his bid for a calendar Grand Slam.
Djokovic broke to start the match only for Rublev to hit back the next game, drawing a loose backhand from the Serbian at the end of a lengthy rally.
The top seed produced some clutch serving to escape a 0-40 hole to hold for 4-4, but Rublev took his next opportunity with Djokovic trying to stay in the set.
Rublev punished a weak second serve to bring up set point, and he soon surged ahead as Djokovic botched a drop shot attempt.
Djokovic fought off a break point early in the second set but failed to convert any of his four opportunities against a resilient Rublev.
The 36-year-old clung on to win a gruelling point dictated by Rublev to move 4-2 up in the tie-break, then ripped a return winner off his rival's serve to produce three set points.
He only needed one, belting an ace out wide to send the match to a third set.
Djokovic received treatment on his back between sets but did not appear to be hindered as he carved out two break points in the fourth game. Rublev resisted until Djokovic cranked up the pressure with the Russian serving to stay in the match.
Djokovic cracked a sensational backhand winner to start the final game and imposed his will against a faltering Rublev, who hurled his racquet in disgust after a double fault sealed his fate.
The Serbian, who has admitted to feeling under the weather this week, will look to add to his record haul of 39 Masters titles Sunday against an opponent who is appearing in just his second such final.
"I was struggling with my fitness again a little bit at the beginning, but I kind of went through it," said Djokovic.
"An unfortunate ending for him (Rublev), but I think I deserved it considering the amount of effort and fight I put in, especially in the third (set)."
Dimitrov continues resurgence
Earlier in the day, Dimitrov kept up his late-season charge by squeezing past Stefanos Tsitsipas in three sets.
The 17th-ranked Bulgarian edged a high-quality encounter 6-3, 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (7/3) to advance to his second Masters final -- after winning the title in Cincinnati six years ago.
"It means a lot to me for so many different reasons," said Dimitrov. "I don't take this very lightly in a sense that, I mean, I appreciate it a lot because I know how difficult it has been for me, certain tournaments and months throughout the year.
"I think getting to this final means a lot more to me than some, I think even some moments, some big moments in my career."
It was just Dimitrov's second win in eight meetings with Tsitsipas, who had yet to lose a set in making the last four at Bercy for the second year running.
In the last few weeks, the 32-year-old Dimitrov has reached the semi-final in Chengdu, a quarter-final in Beijing and the semi-finals of the Masters event in Shanghai.
His path to the last four of the Paris indoor event included a shock defeat of world number three Daniil Medvedev in the second round, avenging his loss to the Russian last week in Vienna.
Dimitrov, who lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals in Paris in 2019, won his only Masters title in Cincinnati in 2017 -- the same year he won the season-ending ATP Finals.