Top-ranked Novak Djokovic overcame the big serve of Tomas Berdych to claim a spot in the last four of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Djokovic, the winner of the season-ending championship in 2008 from Serbia, beat the fifth-seeded Czech 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) at London’s O2 arena. He swept his three round-robin matches to claim the top spot in the group.
“It’s the first time I’ve won all my group matches,” the 25-year-old Djokovic said. “It’s a great confidence boost for me.”
The season-ending event splits the top eight singles players and doubles pairs into groups of four. The top two in each group reach the single-elimination semifinals on Nov. 11.
U.S. Open and Olympic champion Andy Murray of Britain plays France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the evening session. Murray needs to win one set to join Djokovic and six-time champion Roger Federer in the semifinals.
The 6-foot-5 (196-centimeter) Berdych was broken twice in the first set as the ball was frequently placed back straight at his feet despite speeds of around 130 miles per hour (209-kilometers per hour).
Djokovic is one of the best returners in the men’s game, ranking first on the ATP World Tour by winning 56 percent of points returning second serve. He was also second in return games won, break points converted and points won returning first serve.
Djokovic, who will end the season as the world’s top-ranked player for the second consecutive year, seemed on his the way to a quick win when he broke at the start of the second set. Instead, Berdych started to play more aggressively and forced a tiebreaker.
A drop volley that landed on the line handed Berdych a mini-break, from which he took a 5-2 lead. Faced with three set points at 6-3 down, Djokovic applied pressure and forced Berdych into mistakes. An unreturnable serve then gave Djokovic his 11th win in 12 career meetings between the two.
“I had some chances in the tiebreak,” Berdych said in a news conference. “If I would be able to make it, try to push him for the third set, then maybe I get another chance. It didn’t happen.”