The rise of Jan-Lennard Struff

Jan-Lennard Struff has enjoyed a breakout couple of years on tour, which have seen the German reach the top 30 in the ATP rankings and have one of the most powerful serve and forehand combinations in men’s tennis. It is fair to say that it has taken the German a while to find his best form on the ATP Tour, but his best years are ahead of him. In reaching the third round, Struff has earned himself another chance at playing World #1 Novak Djokovic, having lost to him at last week at the Western & Southern Open.

The Career of Jan-Lennard Struff

Early Career

In his early years since turning professional, Struff spent the majority of his time on the ATP Challenger Tour, as he tried to find his feet in the professional game. After losing his first eight ATP Challenger finals, he eventually won his first Challenger title in his fifth year as a pro in 2014, proving that perseverance is required and that success does not always come quickly to young talented players with weapons such as Struff. This Challenger success translated to the main tour, as he broke into the top 100 in the ATP rankings for the first time in his career.

Breaking through and reaching his potential

Struff gained his first top 10 win in 2016 at the Paris Masters over Stan Wawrinka. This provided him with a springboard to have success at the highest level. In hiring coach Carsten Ariens, Struff unlocked the ability to become more consistent and 2019 proved to be the best year of the German’s career so far. Success started at Indian Wells, where Struff took advantage of an out of sorts Alexander Zverev to record his first win of his career over the felloe German.

However, it was during the clay court season where Struff recorded some of the best results in his career, with wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Barcelona and Marin Cilic in Rome. At Roland Garros, the German recorded his best result at a Major, reaching the second week for the first time at a Grand Slam, losing in the fourth round to Djokovic. The second half of the season also brought success, with 3rd round runs at Wimbledon and the US Open, and two further top 10 wins over Tsitsipas and Khachanov at Cincinnati and Paris.

The Matchup vs Djokovic and Tactics

The pair have played each other four times. The matchup is not particularly favorable to the German, with Djokovic winning all four. Their most recent meeting at a Grand Slam was in the first round at the Australian Open, where Struff took his first set off Djokovic. Last week, the pair met in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open. Djokovic was able to effectively neutralize the pace off the German’s serve and forehand.

We saw Djokovic utilizing the drop shot many times in his win over Kyle Edmund on Wednesday, and although he was criticized by some for overusing this tactic (particularly in the first set), it could be a good shot to use to test Stuff’s movement. As for what the German can do to trouble Djokovic, he will need to make a higher percentage of serves than he did in last week’s match. He will need to make Djokovic work for his points, using his forehand to try and dominate the rallies.

However, in many of their matches, Struff has played great tennis, but has often found it difficult to maintain this level for long periods of time. Edmund, who has a similarly powerful forehand, played a great first set, but Djokovic pounced on a lull in his level at the start of the second and was able to propel himself to playing a higher level of tennis. Jan-Lennard Struff will have to play the perfect match to get the win. It promises to be a compelling match.

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