It’s been a perfect week in Tokyo for Novak Djokovic – will he cap it with the Japan Open title? John Millman stands in the way.
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Novak Djokovic has been pristine on his debut at the Rakuten Japan Open – will he continue that form as he faces John Millman in the Tokyo final?
If there was some uncertainty about Djokovic’s form and fitness coming into the Rakuten Japan Open, those doubts have surely been laid to rest by the matches the world no. 1 has played on the way to the final. Djokovic had not played since retiring in the fourth round of the US Open against Stan Wawrinka, having struggled with a left shoulder injury, but there has been no sign of strain or struggle in the tennis he’s played in Tokyo.
Not only has Djokovic not dropped a set in four matches, he’s been serving with unbelievable, consistent effectiveness – winning well above 80% of first-serve points in all of his matches – peppering in a healthy amount of aces among his unplayable deliveries, and has only dropped serve twice the whole tournament. And he hasn’t been pushed to a single tie-break.
Getting one-sided wins over the likes of qualifier Alexei Popyrin and wildcard Go Soeda would always have been expected of Djokovic but it’s his quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Lucas Pouille and David Goffin that have really impressed. Crushing Pouille is nothing new, but Djokovic’s 6-1, 6-2 victory was, as the man himself was forced to admit, more or less flawless tennis. And Goffin, a former Tokyo champion with a 12-1 record at the tournament, came into the match playing great tennis, only to be broken in his first service game and really rendered ineffectual for much of the rest of the match as Djokovic saved all four of the break points he faced, won 34 of the 39 points played behind his first serve and broke the Belgian twice to win 6-3, 6-4 in 91 minutes.
‘I expected it [to be tough]. Obviously he was in good form and played really well against Chung yesterday in the quarters,’ Djokovic said.
‘The conditions are playing quick here. The surface doesn’t bounce that much, so you’ve got to be very low and quick on return as well. It definitely was not easy when both of us were serving well.’
A win like that over an opponent of Goffin’s form and quality is perfect preparation for Djokovic’s title defense at the Shanghai Rolex Masters next week, where he will be opening against Frances Tiafoe or Denis Shapovalov after a first-round bye and could face Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals. But before he moves on to China, Djokovic still has business to attend to in Tokyo: The business of trying to win a 76th career ATP Tour-level title and, by my count, the 12th 500-level title of his career.
The 30-year-old Australian is best known for his US Open 2018 feats, which saw him pull off one of tennis’s biggest shocks when he beat Roger Federer in the fourth round in four sets on an extremely humid night in New York. It was Djokovic who ended Millman’s surprise run to the quarterfinals in straight sets, but the Australian still rose to a career-high ranking of world no. 33 as a result, having enjoyed a good season which saw him capture Challenger titles in Kyoto and Aix-en-Provence and reached his first ATP Tour final on clay in Budapest.
Millman has had a solid 2019 season, too, reaching ATP Tour quarterfinals in Sydney, Acapulco and Winston-Salem and the third round of Wimbledon, but his ranking has slid to world no. 80, mainly because he couldn’t defend many of his US Open points thanks to being drawn to face Rafael Nadal in the first round. He won the Kaohsiung Challenger two weeks ago, however, and has won six matches – many against tough opponents – to reach the Rakuten Japan Open final, beating Adrian Mannarino, Taro Daniel, Lloyd Harris and finally the big and big-serving Reilly Opelka in the semifinals, 6-3, 7-6(4) to reach the biggest final of his career so far.
‘He’s a very solid player,’ Djokovic said of Millman. ‘I saw today that he had a very good, solid win against Opelka, who was in form and is never easy to play against because he has such a big serve. And Millman is someone that is fighting hard, he’s a real fighter on the court. He never gives up. He has a positive attitude, he runs for every ball and he makes you play.
‘So it’s going to be again a baseline battle and I’m hoping I can serve as well as I did throughout the week because that’s something that is going to be needed.’
Playing Goffin is great preparation for playing Millman, and Djokovic has never had any trouble beating the Australian anyway, conceding an average of 2.8 games in the five sets they’ve played against each other in the past at Queen’s Club in June 2018 and at the US Open later that year. Djokovic would be the favourite under almost any circumstances; with the way that he’s been playing, and in particular serving, this week, it seems foolish to expect anything other than a one-sided victory for the world no. 1 in Tokyo.
Djokovic vs Millman Japan Open tennis is live from Tokyo on Sunday at 3.30pm local/7.30am BST
Djokovic vs Millman tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Djokovic to cap a perfect week with Tokyo title
It’s been a perfect week in Tokyo for Novak Djokovic – will he cap it with the Japan Open title?…
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