At this years Roland Garros, the men’s side of the draw has proven to be somewhat uneventful. With few upsets, the top four seeds have all breezed their way through to the semifinals.
However, there has been something distinctly unusual in Paris this year. With Roger Federer’s level being so high and his semifinal matchup with Rafa Nadal giving tennis fans something to savor, there has been little talk about the World #1 Novak Djokovic.
Early Rounds for Djokovic
The Serbian’s route through the draw has been nothing short of brilliant. His opening match against the talented Polish player Hubert Hurkacz was one of the most anticipated first rounds of a Slam is recent years. Many journalists, myself included, saw this encounter as being a potential banana skin. I even thought that Djokovic would drop at least a set. However, after a tense opening set, the Serbian produced some of the best tennis he has ever played on clay. What was particularly impressive was the way he was able to hold his serve with ease, only allowing Hurkacz two break points in the entire match.
The serve has been a particular strength of Djokovic’s at this year’s Roland Garros. His second round match against the Swiss player Henri Laaksonen proved to be a straightforward one, with the Serb winning an impressive 81% of points on his first serve. In his third round match, Djokovic benefitted from the surprise upset of Gilles Simon, a player who troubled Djokovic in a five-set thriller at the 2016 Australian Open by hitting balls up the middle of the court with little pace. Impressively, Djokovic still managed to win despite making 100 unforced errors. Instead of playing Simon, he faced the inexperienced Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso. The match took place on a boiling hot Phillipe Chatrier court. Despite the heat, the Serb fended off a commendable effort from the Italian, winning 84% of points on his first serve.
In his fourth round match against Jan-Lennard Struff, Djokovic produced his best performance of the tournament. Struff has been playing the best tennis of his career this year and started off the match in remarkable fashion, bludgeoning forehands and immediately testing Djokovic’s defensive skills. However, Djokovic was up to the test and cruised through the match in 93 minutes, hitting only twelve unforced errors and winning 86% of his first serve points.
If Djokovic wasn’t given an examination in his first four rounds, he certainly faced one Thursday in the form of Alexander Zverev. Expectations were off the German to produce an upset because of his struggles with form this year. However, there were some who thought that Djokovic would face trouble. Those predictions proved to be correct. Zverev broke Djokovic’s serve and was serving for the first set at 5-4. It looked like the Serb was going to drop his first set this tournament. However, Djokovic broke back and won the first set 7-5. After that, Zverev never recovered and Djokovic took the next two sets, only dropping four games combined.
In a way, not being in the spotlight is good for Djokovic. There is, of course, still pressure on him as the World #1. However, with more attention being on Nadal and Federer, this means he can play with less pressure than usual. In Dominic Thiem, the Serb faces a tough test in the semifinals, but he has already beaten Thiem on the clay this year in Madrid. Despite losing to Nadal in the Rome final, Djokovic was still able to take a set despite playing well below his usual standards. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure. Novak Djokovic is playing some of the best clay court tennis of his career.
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