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Djokovic vs Pouille tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Defending champion Djokovic targets Cincinnati Masters semifinals

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 16 Aug 2019
  • Novak Djokovic faces Lucas Pouille in the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters
  • Djokovic vs Pouille is live from Cincinnati on Friday at 9pm local/2am BST
Novak Djokovic (PA Sports)

Lucas Pouille could only get four games in three sets from Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open – can he do better as they meet again in the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters?

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The only top-eight seed remaining the Cincinnati Masters draw, defending champion Novak Djokovic, faces Lucas Pouille in a rematch of their Australian Open semifinal on Friday.

While the draw elsewhere has been shredded, with Rafael Nadal pulling out after the draw was made, Alexander Zverev, Kei Nishikori and Stefanos Tsitsipas among those crashing out of the bottom half and Roger Federer turning in a shockingly flat performance against an inspired Andrey Rublev on Thursday, Djokovic has been steady – playing not quite his best tennis, but more than well enough to reach the quarterfinals without expending unnecessary energy.

Djokovic and Lucas Pouille meet at the net after the Australian Open semifinal (PA Sports)
Playing his first tournament since winning his fifth Wimbledon title, Djokovic had a tricky opener against big-serving Sam Querrey but came through 7-5, 6-4, and he was in no danger of sharing Federer’s fate as the victim of an upset when he took on qualifier Pablo Carreno Busta on Thursday. Carreno Busta has been a US Open semifinalist and a top-10 player and is showing signs of returning to something like his best form after struggling with a shoulder injury, and he played well on Thursday, showing a more aggressive approach than has previously been the case. He even had multiple break points on Djokovic in the second set, but the Serb saved them all as he relied on his first serve to carry him, once he had secured the vital breaks, to a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

‘I don't think the score indicates how tough it was on the court. We battled it out. I think I was serving really well. That was probably the best shot in the game tonight for me, over 70 per cent of first serves in. Got me out of trouble in the second set when I was facing break points,’ Djokovic said.

‘I thought he was very solid. Played against him a couple of times and have seen him play, and I knew what quality he possesses, but he did surprise me with his aggressiveness from the back of the court. As soon as he got a little bit of a softer ball from my side, he went for it from both forehand and backhand flat coming in.’

This is Djokovic’s eighth quarterfinal of 2019 and his third at Masters 1000 Series level. He is aiming to win his 34th Masters 1000 Series title overall and close the gap on Nadal, whose Rogers Cup victory in Montreal last weekend saw him increase his haul to 35.

Djokovic has a 6-2 record in Cincinnati Masters quarterfinals, having been defeated at that stage by Andy Roddick in 2010 and John Isner in 2013 at the Masters 1000 Series event which eluded him longer than any other until he captured the title last year to complete the ‘career Masters Slam’.

Lucas Pouille, on the other hand, is into just the third Masters 1000 Series quarterfinal of his career in Cincinnati. He made the semifinals of the Rome Masters in 2016 as a lucky loser, and the semifinals of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in 2017, but did not win back-to-back matches – indeed, won only five matches overall – in the next 18 Masters 1000 Series events.

Lucas Pouille (PA Sports)
In a spot in which consistency is both key and elusive, Pouille is what you might call streaky. The 25-year-old Frenchman won his first ATP Tour title in 2016, the same year he reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open, beating Nadal on the way. He picked up four more titles in 2017-18 but didn’t reach another Grand Slam quarterfinal until this January, when – apparently flourishing under new coach Amelie Mauresmo – he made a surprise run to the semifinals of the Australian Open. Pouille didn’t face the toughest draw, but he had to beat a couple of decent players in Borna Coric and Milos Raonic – only to get absolutely flattened by Djokovic in the semifinals, winning just four games.

That wasn’t an experience unique to Pouille in Melbourne, and hopes were high for the Frenchman’s season – but injury interrupted his momentum, he lost his next five matches, and had to drop down to Challenger level to break that losing streak. He’s won back-to-back matches at just two ATP Tour-level events since the Australian Open – Stuttgart, where he made the quarterfinals, and Wimbledon, where he lost to Federer in the third round – and his overall ATP Tour-level win-loss record in 2019 is 15-15, with five of those wins having come in Melbourne in January.

After going 0-2 in Los Cabos and Montreal, lo and behold, things have come together for Pouille again in Cincinnati, a tournament he had a 1-2 record at before this year. He beat Denis Kudla and Denis Shapovalov in straight sets to make the third round, where he came back from a set down against eighth seed Karen Khachanov, a semifinalist in Montreal last week, to win 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2.

It was Pouille’s first win over a top-10 player since he beat Dominic Thiem in Metz in September 2016, and snapped an eight-match losing streak against players ranked inside the top 10. The French player had no particular explanation for why things have been going better this week, however.

‘I haven’t played very well in a Masters 1000 for a while,’ Pouille said. ‘I’m happy to have the chance to play Novak. I’m feeling very well, trying to focus on my game and going step by step.’

Beating Khachanov is one thing. Defeating Djokovic would be quite another, especially after the shellacking Pouille received at Djokovic’s hands in Melbourne, where he appeared totally hapless and out of ideas against the Serb. Djokovic is not playing anywhere near as well, or as focused and energized as he was in Melbourne, but I’m not sure it’s going to matter; unless Pouille serves really well, he’s going to find himself smothered and driven on to the back foot by Djokovic’s returning and the Serb will efficiently then finish off the points.

It should be closer than the Australian Open demolition, because Djokovic was in otherworldly form that day (his serving in particular was absolutely unbelievable). I think Pouille can keep the scoreline reasonably close. But he’s not going to stop Djokovic from reaching the Cincinnati semifinals.

Djokovic vs Pouille tennis is live from Cincinnati on Friday at 9pm local/2am BST

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Djokovic vs Pouille tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Defending champion Djokovic targets Cincinnati Masters semifinals

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