The O2 house was packed on Wednesday to see two tennis powerhouses clash in the ATP World Tour finals.
Group B churned out another cracker as world number two Novak Djokovic took on the equally physical Juan Martin Del Potro.
After winning their opening matches, both players needed another victory to secure a place in the semi-finals. Both would also have hoped to be facing weaker opposition.
A rally of 29 shots in the first game suggested there would be no easy winner.
But in the end it was Djokovic who claimed the first semi-final spot from Group B with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
“I played a poor game at 3-2 in the second set. He used his chance to come back to the match. There was a lack of concentrating on his side, on my side,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference.
This is the best tennis I’ve played throughout the season and that’s something I take as a positive for this moment and next season...Nadal is world number one and he deserves that in 2013.
“I just tried to make him play. I served very well at the end of the match”
On Wednesday, Djokovic’s chances of finishing the year world number one were put to bed by Rafael Nadal. A second victory in the competition against Stanislas Wawrinka enough to ensure Djokovic could not catch him.
However, Djokovic did not seem to be too bothered about finishing runner up to Nadal.
“It’s not frustrating for me. It’s very encouraging where I am right now. This is the best tennis I’ve played throughout the season and that’s something I take as a positive for this moment and next season.”
“Nadal is world number one and he deserves that in 2013. He won two grand slams and played some great tennis.”
It appears Djokovic’s actions supported his words as he was seen laughing with a friend at Chelsea’s Champions League match against Schalke on Wednesday evening.
A night of football had not tired out the Serb who raced into the lead, breaking early on to take a 4-2 advantage. Athletic and flexible as usual, Djokovic wrapped up the first set quickly 6-3.
Meanwhile Del Potro struggled to show the form that has secured him four titles this year.
At the O2 he hasn’t come close to the aggressive display that almost took him into the Wimbledon final. Few tennis fans will forget the rallies exchanged between Djokovic and Del Potro during the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history, timed at four hours and 43 minutes.
This encounter was to be much shorter than that.
An under-par Del Potro opened his World Tour campaign with victory over Richard Gasquet but couldn’t raise his game against the in-form player of the tour.
Djokovic has won three titles in a row coming into London and despite losing his top ranking to Nadal is the tournament favourite.
“Well I had a great start to the season and great ending to the season for sure, I would pick these two parts of the year as the best for me,” said Djokovic.
“I have 18-19 wins in a row. The players are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted but that gives me every motivation to push myself to the limit and deliver the goods when needed.”
It wasn’t a totally one-sided affair at London’s O2 with Del Potro starting the second set with more purpose and forcing some rare errors from Djokovic.
At 2-2, Del Potro came into his own with some ruthless forehands to gain a 40-0 advantage. At 3-2, he needed a helping hand from the net to finally break.
The Argentine apologised to Djokovic and then quickly turned to celebrate the break. The predominantly English crowd were well and truly behind underdog Del Potro after his impressive and charismatic displays at Wimbledon.
An early bath was not in store for Djokovic, as Del Potro shortly afterwards sealed the set 6-3.
However, it seemed Del Potro had little gas left in the tank while Djokovic hardly broke a sweat.
After one hour 42 minutes, the game turned in the favour of the defending champion as he broke 4-2.
Del Potro did not give up without a fight, using his powerful trademark serve to hold his service game. But Djokovic responded in kind, taking a 30-0 lead after firing a powerful serve at his Argentine rival. He then secured three match points with an inch perfect drop shot.
He only needed one. After 1 hour 54 minutes, Djokovic sliced a sharp backhand out of Del Potro’s reach to claim a place in the semi-finals.
A Nadal v Djokovic final is still on the cards with Nadal also through to the semis.
And the final place in the semi-finals from Group B will be decided between Del Potro and Roger Federer on Saturday.
Djokovic couldn’t pick a winner.
“It’s difficult to say. All the matches played against each other went the distance. Roger is playing better than he has throughout the whole year. He loves these conditions and support. But on the other hand Del Potro has a big serve.You can expect a three set battle.”