Before this week, Djokovic was last seen retiring in the fourth round of the US Open while trailing Stan Wawrinka 4-7, 5-7, 1-2 due to an injury to his left shoulder that had also been seen to bother him at the Cincinnati Masters, where he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals. There was speculation that Djokovic would require surgery on the shoulder, or that his season might be done, but thankfully the Serb – who has shown himself in the past unwilling to undergo surgeries – does not seem to have needed to do so, having returned from about a month’s break in victorious style at the Japan Open.
Making his debut at the 500-level event in Tokyo this week, Djokovic has come through to the quarterfinals in unruffled style while the majority of the other seeds have crashed out – indeed, all four of the seeded players in the bottom half of the draw failed to survive the first round. After a 6-4, 6-2 win over qualifier Alexei Popyrin, a fast-rising Australian, Djokovic faced home hope and wildcard Go Soeda and came through with only one minor hiccup – being broken while serving for the match. He still managed to close it out 6-3, 7-5, however.
‘I think I played a pretty good tennis match. From the baseline, I was solid, aggressive when I needed to be and taking the ball early. I served very well until that game when I was serving for the match at 5-3. I made some double faults, I missed all my first serves, so I didn’t serve that well that game, allowing him to break back and come back to the match,’ Djokovic said after Wednesday’s encounter.
‘But there were not too many negatives today, because I had chances constantly. I had match points at 5-4, but he just came up with some very good shots and fought hard and that’s why we give him credit. But from my side, I’m really pleased.’
With a title to defend at next week’s Shanghai Masters, Djokovic wants to find form again quickly, but even such an exacting judge as the world no. 1 has to be fairly satisfied with how things have gone so far at the Japan Open – there have certainly been no outward signs of discomfort in his shoulder.
Pouille’s 2019 season peaked early and comprehensively. The French player, so tremendously talented, teamed up with new coach Amelie Mauresmo over the off-season and showed the immediate benefits of that decision when he reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, beating Popyrin, Borna Coric and Milos Raonic before being unceremoniously flattened by Djokovic. But even though he had lost the semifinals so one-sidedly, there seemed to be so much cause for optimism for how the rest of Pouille’s season might go.
It did not materialize. Leaving aside Pouille’s Australian Open results, he is 20-18 in 2019, and time is running out for the French player to get it together again. Pouille was unlucky to struggle with injury after Melbourne, losing his next five matches and having to drop down to Challenger level in April to snap his losing streak, but the former Wimbledon and US Open quarterfinalist has only made the quarterfinals or better of three events since January: Stuttgart, where he beat Daniil Medvedev before losing to Jan-Lennard Struff; the Cincinnati Masters, where he beat Karen Khachanov and Denis Shapovalov before losing to Djokovic; and Metz, where he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the eventual champion, in the semifinals in two tie-break sets.
Maintaining his commitment to following a step forward with two steps back, Pouille followed up his Metz semifinal run by losing to world no. 91 Soon Woo Kwon in Chengdu last week, but he’s had a couple of good wins in Tokyo, beating Hubert Hurkacz and Yoshihito Nishioka in straight sets.
Unfortunately for Pouille, whenever he’s managed to get some momentum going this year, he’s been promptly crushed by Djokovic, and that very much seems to be on the cards again in Tokyo. Pouille was beaten 0, 2 and 2 by Djokovic at the Australian Open, and while he pushed the Serb to a tie-break in the first set of their Cincinnati encounter, Pouille promptly completely crumbled in that tie-break, lost it 1-7 and only got one game in the second set (and that was when Djokovic was struggling with his shoulder). Pouille can’t hit through Djokovic, he has to push his game to such aggressive baselining heights just to stay with the Serb that he can’t sustain it, and all in all it looks like being another fairly comfortable victory for Djokovic – and another semifinal in 2019 – on Friday.
Djokovic vs Pouille Japan Open tennis is live from Tokyo on Friday at 2pm local/6pm BST
Djokovic vs Pouille tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Djokovic continues comeback after injury in Tokyo
Novak Djokovic has crushed Lucas Pouille twice in 2019 – will the Serb make it a hat-trick of one-sided wins…
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