Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

World number one Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the ATP Cup in Sydney amid ongoing uncertainty over his title defence at next month's Australian Open.

Djokovic has not yet confirmed his place at January's Grand Slam due to the COVID-19 mandate in Victoria.

The 34-year-old's father, Srdjan, has previously said that the nine-time Australian Open champion is unlikely to feature in Melbourne unless vaccination rules are relaxed.

World number 33 Dusan Lajovic will now lead the Serbia team at the ATP Cup.

Meanwhile, Austria have been replaced by France at the event following the withdrawals of Dominic Thiem and Dennis Novak. The French will be led by world number 35 Ugo Humbert, alongside Arthur Rinderknech, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Fabrice Martin.

Russia's Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karatsev and Evgeny Donskoy have withdrawn, with Evgeny Karlovskiy joining the team, while Team USA's Austin Krajicek has also pulled out.

The ATP Cup will begin on New Year's Day at both Ken Rosewall Arena and Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park.

Alexander Zverev believes he will form a big three with Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev in 2022 but hopes he will not get the chance to become world number one at the Australian Open.

The German is knocking on the door near the top of the rankings after a fine year that saw him win six titles, including the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Zverev, currently ranked third, could go top of the rankings if he wins the Australian Open, which starts next month, but that is only possible if current world number one Djokovic does not play.

And Zverev is hopeful the Serbian will take part despite continued uncertainty over his participation in the tournament amid intense debate over his COVID-19 vaccine stance.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open winner, is yet to disclose his vaccination status.

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said this week he is still hoping to see the tour's top player participate if he meets the required conditions, which are either being vaccinated or having a medical exemption.

"The situation with Novak and Australia is still a big question mark," Zverev said in a podcast appearance with Eurosport Germany. 

"Of course, I hope that he will be allowed to play, that is very clear.

"There are thousands of mathematical calculations, if he doesn't play Australia and I win the Australian Open, then I'm number one in the world and so on and so forth.

"At the end of the day, now is not the time to think about [being world number one]. Now is the time to prepare as best as you can so you're physically able to play for it."

As well as his silverware, Zverev made the last four of the French Open and US Open, and the 24-year-old believes his experience has begun to come to the fore.

Zverev had a 59-15 record this season and recorded at least one victory against every other player inside the top 10 of the ATP year-end rankings.

"I've become much calmer and I'm also getting older," he added.

"I'm not 18 or 19 anymore. I understand maybe a bit more things about life and understand that you just have to keep calm in important situations. That has had its effect on me this year.

"I think next year could be very similar to the last six months from this year.

"Before, there used to be always talk about Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – now the big titles were the Olympics, US Open, Turin and Wimbledon, and they were all won by Medvedev, Djokovic and me. 

"I don't expect it to be any different next year."

Alexander Zverev believes he will form a big three with Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev in 2022 but hopes he will not get the chance to become world number one at the Australian Open.

The German is knocking on the door near the top of the rankings after a fine year that saw him win six titles, including the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Zverev, currently ranked third, could go top of the rankings if he wins the Australian Open, which starts next month, but that is only possible if current world number one Djokovic does not play.

And Zverev is hopeful the Serbian will take part despite continued uncertainty over his participation in the tournament amid intense debate over his COVID-19 vaccine stance.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open winner, is yet to disclose his vaccination status.

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said this week he is still hoping to see the tour's top player participate if he meets the required conditions, which are either being vaccinated or having a medical exemption.

"The situation with Novak and Australia is still a big question mark," Zverev said in a podcast appearance with Eurosport Germany. 

"Of course, I hope that he will be allowed to play, that is very clear.

"There are thousands of mathematical calculations, if he doesn't play Australia and I win the Australian Open, then I'm number one in the world and so on and so forth.

"At the end of the day, now is not the time to think about [being world number one]. Now is the time to prepare as best as you can so you're physically able to play for it."

As well as his silverware, Zverev made the last four of the French Open and US Open, and the 24-year-old believes his experience has begun to come to the fore.

Zverev had a 59-15 record this season and recorded at least one victory against every other player inside the top 10 of the ATP year-end rankings.

"I've become much calmer and I'm also getting older," he added.

"I'm not 18 or 19 anymore. I understand maybe a bit more things about life and understand that you just have to keep calm in important situations. That has had its effect on me this year.

"I think next year could be very similar to the last six months from this year.

"Before, there used to be always talk about Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – now the big titles were the Olympics, US Open, Turin and Wimbledon, and they were all won by Medvedev, Djokovic and me. 

"I don't expect it to be any different next year."

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley wants Novak Djokovic to participate in Melbourne but will not ask the world number one to disclose any medical reason he has for being unvaccinated against COVID-19.

The first grand slam of 2022 begins on January 17, but it is unclear if reigning champion Djokovic will be competing.

The Serbian, a nine-time Australian Open winner, is yet to disclose his vaccination status.

Following guidance from the Victoria state government, all players, staff and spectators at Melbourne Park must have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus or hold a medical exemption.

Djokovic has been named on the list for the draw and is also due to represent Serbia at the ATP Cup in Sydney, which runs from January 1 to 9.

"If Novak shows up, he'll be vaccinated or have a medical exemption," Australian Open chief executive Tiley told the Australian Associated Press.

"If any player, fan [or] workforce is on site here, you're either vaccinated or you have a medical exemption that's approved and you're on the Australian Immunisation Register.

"That provides us with safety and an extra level of comfort on site.

"We want to have the best players here; I'd love to have Novak here. If he meets those conditions then great, if not, it's disappointing."

Tiley added he does not expect Djokovic to reveal any medical reason for which he may not have received the vaccine, should he receive a medical exemption to feature in the tournament.

"Medically, he doesn't talk to anyone about it. I'm not going to ask Novak that, it's none of my business," Tiley continued.

"[It's] his choice on his medical condition, it's his choice to keep personal and private like all of us would do with any condition we may or may not have. We are not going to force him or ask him to disclose that.

"[If he is here] I will know that he fulfils one of those conditions."

Rafael Nadal is set to play in Melbourne, though that is in doubt after the Spaniard tested positive for COVID-19 this week, following his appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Dubai.

Tiley, however, believes Nadal will have recovered in time.

"I'm confident Rafa will be here," said Tiley. "Players that are testing positive now will complete a period of time until they are no longer infectious and they will be fine.

"If you are going to test positive and you want to play the Australian Open, your timing would be now."

Novak Djokovic has been included in the official entry list for the 2022 Australian Open, with Tennis Australia adamant that no loopholes are being explored.

The world number one, who has won nine of his 20 grand slam titles in Melbourne, has not yet disclosed his COVID-19 vaccination status, meaning there is doubt over whether he will be able to participate.

Every person competing or attending the grand slam next month will need to have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

However, despite the uncertainty, the 34-year-old was named in the official list of players for the tournament draw.

Djokovic had already been named in Serbia's team for the ATP Cup, which is to be held in Sydney, leading to speculation that he could enter Australia by travelling directly to New South Wales, which has different COVID-19 restrictions to the state of Victoria, and may then seek a medical exemption to get around the rules applying to unvaccinated travellers.

James Merlino, Victoria's deputy premier, responded to these reports, which also suggested Djokovic had the backing of Tennis Australia.

"My view on this is really clear and really simple," Merlino said on Wednesday. "Everyone's looking forward to the Australian Open and everyone who will attend – spectators, players, officials, staff – everyone is expected to be fully vaccinated.

"They're the rules. Medical exemptions are just that – it's not a loophole for privileged tennis players. It is a medical exemption in exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition."

Tennis Australia responded to Merlino's comments with a statement of their own.

"Any suggestion that Tennis Australia is seeking 'loopholes' within this process is simply untrue. Adjudicating on medical exemptions is the domain of independent medical experts. We are not in a position to influence this process and nor would we," the statement read.

"Any application for a medical exemption must follow strict government guidelines based on ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) clinical advice. This is the same process that applies to any person wanting to enter Australia."

While Djokovic's participation is unclear, Serena Williams is a big-name absentee. The 40-year-old, who is one shy of matching Margaret Court's record tally of 23 grand slams, had been expected to play in Melbourne.

Roger Federer had already confirmed his absence, but Rafael Nadal is set to compete for the first time since August.

World number two and US Open champion Daniil Medvedev takes his place in the draw, as does 2020 Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

Australian world number one Ash Barty headlines the women's field, with Naomi Osaka, US Open winner Emma Raducanu and WTA Finals champion Garbine Muguruza also in the draw.

Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, has decided to skip the event to focus on her mental wellbeing.

World number one Novak Djokovic has committed to playing the ATP Cup in Sydney amid ongoing uncertainty over his title defence at next month's Australian Open.

Djokovic has been unwilling to confirm his place at January's Australia Open due to the COVID-19 mandate in Victoria.

The state of Victoria, where the year's opening grand slam takes place at Melbourne Park, has introduced a vaccine mandate for professional athletes and across most industries due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Djokovic's father, Srdjan, said the nine-time Australian Open champion is unlikely to feature in Melbourne unless vaccination rules are relaxed.

But in a boost for the slam's organisers, Djokovic was named in top-seeded Serbia's team for the third edition of the ATP Cup, which will take place in Sydney from January 1-9.

"We're excited to host the third edition of the ATP Cup in Sydney in 2022," said ATP Cup tournament director Tom Larner.

"The playing group enjoy representing their countries and to see 18 of the world’s Top 20 players commit to the event is testament to that.

"The event shows off the passion the playing group have for this format and we look forward to welcoming all 16 teams to Sydney later this month."

The 2021 Australian Open went ahead, albeit in February instead of January, and without fans for most of the tournament following a snap lockdown of Melbourne due to COVID-19.

Djokovic – winner of a joint-record 20 grand slam titles – was among the players critical of the conditions athletes endured prior to this year's Australian Open, with strict quarantine measures introduced.

Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah has been named among the nominees for BBC Sports Personality of the Year’s World Sports Star award.

This follows her being named Female Athlete of the Year by World Athletics at their virtual award show held on December 1st.

The triple gold medallist from the Tokyo Olympics this year has been nominated alongside Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Rachael Blackmore, Tom Brady, Novak Djokovic and Max Verstappen.

Thompson-Herah will face stiff competition from her fellow nominees as Alvarez became the first undisputed super-middleweight champion in boxing history with an 11th round finish against Caleb Plant last month.

Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National back in April.

Tom Brady led the Buccaneers to their first Superbowl in franchise history and his seventh overall, having won six previously as a member of the New England Patriots.

Novak Djokovic won three Grand Slam titles this year at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon to take his overall tally to 20, joining rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the all-time leader board.

Verstappen is in a fight for his first F1 title and has won nine races so far this season.

Voting is now open for the award on the BBC’s website and closes on December 14th with the winner being unveiled at the BBC Sports Personality of The Year Ceremony on December 19th.

Rafael Nadal conceded that Novak Djokovic will likely end his career with the most grand slam singles titles in men's tennis history, ahead of the Spaniard and Roger Federer.

The so-called 'Big Three' of tennis have long dominated the ATP Tour, with all three sitting on 20 major titles after Djokovic collected three from a possible four in 2021.

Djokovic, who secured a year-end number one ranking for a record seventh time, would have completed a clean sweep if it were not for Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final.  

Nadal, by contrast, missed large parts of the season with a foot injury, while Federer was similarly ruled out for a substantial period after requiring a third knee operation in the space of 18 months.

Nadal could make a return for the Australian Open in January, an event that the world number one may miss due to a vaccine mandate, but he still expects Djokovic to hold the record for major titles when the trio has retired.

"Djokovic is best positioned to be the [men's] player with the most grand slams," Nadal said to Movistar.

"You don't have to fool yourself – Federer is where he is and I am where I am. However, Djokovic is playing well and in a good moment.

"That is the reality, and you can't ignore it. We don't know what is going to happen in nine months' time, but he is the favourite right now."

Nadal triumphed at Roland Garros in 2020 but has only appeared at two majors since, while Federer – who hopes to return to tour-level action in 2022 – last collected a grand slam title at the Australian Open in 2018.

Nadal is glad that the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Medvedev, who only dropped one set across the entire tournament as he denied Djokovic the perfect year, are taking over.

"They are no longer the Next Gen, we do not have to make it eternal," Nadal said of the new 'Big Three' in tennis.

"Players like Medvedev, Zverev or Tsitsipas have already passed that stage of the Next Gen, they are the current generation, the present."

Novak Djokovic has backed the stance of the WTA after it suspended all tournaments in China amid ongoing concerns of the safety and wellbeing of Peng Shuai.

Peng made sexual assault allegations in early November against Zhang Ghaoli, the ex-vice-premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, and has not been seen in public since.

She posted the allegations on Chinese social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts have been unclear.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held two video calls with Peng, including one on Thursday, but the WTA chairman Steve Simon said neither the first call nor an email allegedly received from the tennis player alleviated concerns.

The WTA, who run the women's tennis tour, suspended its upcoming tournaments in China on Wednesday amid continuing concerns over Peng's safety and Djokovic agrees with the organisation's stance.

"I support fully the WTA's stance because we don't have enough information about Peng Shuai and her well-being," the men's world number one told reporters at Thursday's Davis Cup news conference.

"I think the position of the WTA is very bold and very courageous."

The IOC said it will hold a "personal meeting" in January with Peng as they released a statement on the same day as the second call to repeat the message of the "quiet diplomacy" route that was being taken with Chinese sport bodies.

Novak Djokovic is unlikely to play at the Australian Open in January unless COVID-19 vaccination rules are relaxed, according to the player's father.

Organisers recently confirmed that players must be vaccinated against coronavirus to compete in the tournament, which begins on January 17.

World number one Djokovic, who won a record ninth title in Melbourne last year, has not publicly stated whether he has had the jab.

Srdjan Djokovic told Serbia's TV Prva that being vaccinated is a personal choice, and that Tennis Australia's rules are essentially "blackmail".

"As far as vaccines and non-vaccines are concerned, it is the personal right of each of us whether we will be vaccinated or not," he was quoted as saying by news website B92.

"No one has the right to enter into our intimacy, it is guaranteed by the constitution. Everyone has the right to decide on their health.

"Whether [Novak] is vaccinated or not, that is his exclusive right. Will he publish it, I don't think so. I don't know that decision either, and if I did, I wouldn't share it with you. He has the right to decide as he wants."

When asked about Djokovic's decision to play in Australia, his father added: "Whether he will appear there depends on how [the organisers] position themselves. He would want it with all his heart because he's an athlete, and we would love that too.

"Under these blackmails and conditions, he probably won't. I wouldn't do that. And he's my son, so you decide for yourself."

Djokovic, who is tied on 20 major singles titles with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, recently said he was unsure of his participation following his appearance at the ATP Finals in Turin.

"I was just waiting to hear what the news is going to be and now that I know we'll just have to wait and see," he said.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic does not know if he will defend his crown due to the COVID-19 mandate in Victoria.

It remains to be seen whether world number one Djokovic will fly to Melbourne in January amid vaccination requirements.

The state of Victoria, where the year's opening grand slam takes place at Melbourne Park, has introduced a vaccine mandate for professional athletes and across most industries due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As doubts over Djokovic's participation linger, the 34-year-old superstar was asked about his Australian Open plans after losing to Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals on Saturday.

"I haven't been talking to [Tennis Australia], to be honest," nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic told reporters after his 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3 defeat in Turin.

"I was just waiting to hear what the news was going to be. Now that I know, we'll just have to wait and see."

The 2021 Australian Open went ahead, albeit in February instead of January, and without fans for most of the tournament following a snap lockdown of Melbourne due to COVID-19.

Djokovic – winner of a joint-record 20 grand slam titles – was among the players critical of the conditions athletes endured prior to this year's Australian Open, with strict quarantine measures introduced.

World number one Novak Djokovic revelled in his "phenomenal" year, despite his ATP Finals exit to Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic's season came to an end on Saturday, the 20-time grand slam champion beaten 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3 by Zverev in the Turin semi-finals.

A five-time winner of the season-ending tournament, Djokovic missed out on the chance to claim a record-tying sixth Finals title after falling to Olympic Games gold medallist Zverev.

While his year did not end the way he wanted, Djokovic reflected on another successful campaign, which saw the 34-year-old equal the record for most major trophies thanks to wins at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.

Djokovic also missed out on becoming just the third man to complete the Grand Slam – a feat last achieved by Rod Laver in 1969 – after losing to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final.

"It was a great season, no doubt. I did not play many tournaments, but still managed to end the year at number one for the seventh time, broke records for the year-end number one, historic number one, won three out of [the] four Slams," said Djokovic, who surpassed Pete Sampras for most year-ending number ones.

"The year was phenomenal. Maybe could have done better in some other ATP events. But all in all really good ending of the season as well with a title in Paris and semi-finals here."

On the match against Zverev, Djokovic said: "Of course we want to win against each other, but there is that respect and appreciation for each other that is more important than winning or losing.

"That's something that I always had with Sascha. I really appreciate that. I wish him all the best. He's a great guy, fantastic tennis player, I'm sure soon to be a Grand Slam champion."

It will be the first Finals decider without a player aged over 25 since 2005, when David Nalbandian beat Roger Federer.

Zverev – the third seed – is bidding to become the first player to beat the world number one and two in the semis and final since Andre Agassi in 1990.

Russian number two Medvedev stands in his way and Zverev added: "Every time we play it takes hours. I have not spent more time on court with anybody other than him [Djokovic] this year.

"I am happy with the win and happy to be in the final here and to give myself the best chance for tomorrow [Sunday]."

Novak Djokovic fell at the semi-final stage of the ATP Finals for a second year in succession as he was defeated by Alexander Zverev on Saturday.

World number one Djokovic was hoping to reach the final of the season-ending tournament for the eighth time but came up against Zverev in exceptional form, the third seed winning 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3.

Neither player managed to get a break point until the 10th game, such was the quality of serving, and it was Zverev who was put under pressure. He responded well, though, with an exceptional serve before saving himself and denying Djokovic a one-set lead.

Zverev then wasted two break points of his own in the next game, the set ultimately going to a tie-break, and the match's first double fault from Djokovic handed the advantage to his opponent, who came out on top in a lengthy rally and then saw a blistering serve give him the set.

Djokovic initially looked rattled and frustrated at the start of the second set, yet a bad miss from Zverev let him off the hook as the five-time champion avoided suffering an early break.

Zverev took just 58 seconds to win the fifth game and go 3-2 up and his next service game was also won to love, but Djokovic finally got the elusive first break to make it 5-4 before converting his fifth set point.

Djokovic could not take that momentum into the decider and, although it went with serve for the first three games, a sloppy showing in game four allowed Zverev to pounce for his first break of the match.

He survived a brief wobble and a break point before eventually closing out a wonderful victory, serving to love again as he set up a final clash with the defending champion Daniil Medvedev.

 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 27/29
Zverev – 35/24

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 

Djokovic – 15/1
Zverev – 14/1

BREAK POINTS WON 

Djokovic – 1/4
Zverev – 1/4

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has insisted all players, including Novak Djokovic, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to compete at the January grand slam.

Djokovic's vaccination status is unclear, and he has so far refused to confirm whether he has been jabbed, which has led to doubts over whether he will be in Melbourne.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has made it clear that tennis stars arriving for the tournament must be prepared to show proof of having protection against the virus.

For Djokovic, who is competing this week at the ATP Finals in Turin, it remains to be seen whether he is willing to go through that process.

Tiley told Channel Nine: "It's been made very clear, when the Premier announced several weeks ago that in order to participate at the Australian Open, to come into Victoria, you'll need to be fully vaccinated.

"Immediately we communicated that to the playing group, it is the one direction that you take that is going to ensure everyone's safety. All the playing group understands it, our patrons will need to be vaccinated, all the staff working at the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated.

"But when we're in a state where there's more than 90 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, they've done a magnificent job with that, it's the right thing to do."

Tiley said organisers "would love to see Novak" make the trip to a tournament he has won a record nine times.

Djokovic sits on 20 grand slam titles, the same mark as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He needs one more to set the outright men's record, having lost to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final in September.

"We have been speaking to Novak Djokovic's team and Novak and the team understand clearly that in order to come and play the Australian Open they'll need to be fully vaccinated," Tiley said, according to ABC.

"I know that he wants to play it, he's clearly indicated that and he knows the conditions that he'd have to undergo in order to be eligible to play."

The tournament is due to get under way on January 17, with the player bubbles and quarantine measures that were in force at the 2021 edition no longer in place and Melbourne Park set to operate at full capacity.

Australian player Nick Kyrgios this week said he believes the vaccine mandate is "morally wrong".

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