ATP Tel Aviv Semifinal Predictions Including Novak Djokovic vs Roman Safiullin

Novak Djokovic in action at the ATP Tel Aviv Open.

The ATP Tel Aviv semifinal round features a couple of faces that won’t surprise anyone, with a couple other faces that many might not recognize. On paper, both of these matches look to be heading toward blowouts, but actual on-court play gives the underdogs a better shot than at first seems. All shocking upsets are, by nature, unlikely, but here we have a couple opportunities for shocking upsets that seem more possible than normal. Will Djokovic storm the 250-level event as everyone would assume, or can either or both of the two unheard-ofs reach the first ATP final of their career? We call the matches below, including Marin Cilic vs Constant Lestienne.

ATP Tel Aviv Semifinal Predictions

Marin Cilic vs Constant Lestienne

Head-to-head: first meeting

What do we make of Constant Lestienne? He has almost no experience on that ATP Tour at all by the age of 30, yet he is 5-1 on hard courts this year and has come through a fairly difficult draw to make the semis. Maxime Cressy was his latest defeat, and the highest-ranked player he has ever faced, after Adrian Mannarino and Emil Ruusuvuori. Cilic represents another step up at #16 in the world, but Lestienne is doing new things here, and it’s hard to discount the possibility of winning despite the enormous difference in career success between these two.

Cilic, for his part, is playing well, and it could be argued whether his walkover against Liam Broady was helpful or harmful. He could have probably used the match, not having played almost at all since the US Open, but then again, rest is the best friend of players well over 30. He probably feels very good about going into a match against a career Challenger tour player in the semis of a tournament on an extra day’s rest.

We know Cilic’s formula for winning, but what can Lestienne do to compete? He is a smaller player, with a style like a more energetic David Goffin, and he covers the back of the court fantastically. His movement in the backcourt on long runs is probably his best attribute, and that is helpful against a player who attacks as incessantly as Marin Cilic.

The question is whether he can keep up with the power of Cilic’s shots, and whether the Croat hits his marks. Lestienne’s best bet is probably to cover as well as he can, and hope Cilic pushes too hard and makes errors. But Lestienne also has a nice down-the-line backhand that he can attack with when he’s moved out wide to the left. In total, though, Cilic has put together an excellent season and has played well when he’s been on court these last few months. I give Lestienne a set for his unusual form right now, but I think the magical run likely ends here.
Prediction: Cilic in 3

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Novak Djokovic vs Roman Safiullin

Head-to-head: first meeting

On paper this looks like an easy straight-sets victory for Djokovic. He beat Pablo Andujar badly, then followed it with a reasonable victory over Vasek Pospisil, the latter of whom found some success with a big attacking forehand and almost took the first set. But it almost doesn’t seem to matter what kind of form Djokovic is in; he finds a way to win.

Safiullin, on the other hand, is very inexperienced on the ATP Tour, although he’s compiled a 9-4 record on hard courts this year. But he has a strangely high level that he can reach, and that is what makes him an intriguing matchup here against Djokovic. Safiullin demonstrated this high level earlier in the year in a win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, and has been hitting a similar level in Tel Aviv. The English commentator at the end of the Russian’s quarterfinal win over Arthur Rinderknech was practically rapturous, describing Safiullin’s level as equal to that of Djokovic’s in his win over Pospisil.

Interestingly, Safiullin and Pospisil are very similar players, with not much more than a height and weight difference to distinguish them. They both have compact motions that whip slower balls on the forehand well, and very solid backhands reminiscent of Djokovic’s own. They are of a similar build, though Safiullin moves better given his lighter weight, while Pospisil brings a bit more power on serve and groundstrokes.

The primary difference between Djokovic’s semifinal opponent compared to quarterfinals is the mentality. Where the Russian plays a more defensive game, the Canadian is able to attack more given the extra power, athough he is not really an aggressive player. But the difference is relatively slight, and Safiullin turns his defense into offense well when he gets his shot. This is also a Djokovic trait, and should make for a lot of interesting exchanges this match. If Safiullin is to have any chance to win, he will have to be as sharp in his shotmaking as he was against Rinderknech; but it’s hard to see Djokovic giving him as many opportunities. The Russian’s current level, though, combined with the Serb’s recent time off, makes me give the former a set here.
Prediction: Djokovic in 3

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