‘Extremely exciting’: Djokovic insists being behind big four won’t affect him at season-ending ATP Finals

MELBOURNE, Australia — Playing a tournament packed with players with household names, Novak Djokovic says he is happy to be the “star” of the show.

Djokovic beat Casper Ruud 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday in his opening match of the season-ending ATP Finals, in a match that covered more than an hour in late-afternoon heat and humidity.

Five of the eight players in Group A have multiple Grand Slam titles: Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. The eighth player, Kei Nishikori, also has multiple majors, but has been absent since Wimbledon with a right wrist injury.

Djokovic said he has always played big matches on clay, at the French Open, the Masters events and Grand Slams. But he’d never before played a tournament with only the so-called big four in action.

“It’s a bit strange, for sure,” Djokovic said, “but with good intentions to bring excitement to the tennis world and the fans.

“Obviously it’s very exciting for me, because this is my place on tour, on one of the very few stages I play every year.”

Djokovic improved to 8-0 in his previous seven matches against Ruud, including in last year’s end-of-season finale in London.

With Saturday’s final right around the corner, there are only four remaining matches and plenty of time for the other players to build momentum.

“We’re going to need a few breaks in this third set,” Djokovic said. “It’s going to be very exciting weekend.”

Federer and Nishikori are defending their title this week, but they played each other on Wednesday, with Nishikori beating Federer 6-4, 7-6 (2).

“It’s going to be tough to keep everything going,” Federer said. “I’m going to have to keep fighting like I have against Kei last night. It’s going to be tough.

“I’ve got to make it my goal to try to win one more match than they do.”

Federer, who has lost only one match in the past nine months, took less than an hour to beat Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-2 on Thursday to advance to the round-robin phase.

Wawrinka beat Jack Sock 6-4, 6-4 in his opening match. The defending champion needed little more than two hours to beat Dominic Thiem 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match of the group.

Wawrinka edged Thiem in the fourth round last year to advance to the semifinals.

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