World No. 1, Novak Djokovic continues his Japan Open campaign on Wednesday when he plays home favourite, Go Soeda in the second round.
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Djokovic opened his tournament with a convincing 6-4 6-2 victory over Australian qualifier, Alexei Popyrin, making a successful return from the shoulder injury that had forced him to retire from last month’s US Open fourth round meeting with Stan Wawrinka.
The 16-time major champion had not played since that Flushing Meadows exit, with some reports suggesting that he could require surgery and be out for the season, but the world No. 1 showed no signs of any shoulder problems against Popyrin on Tuesday, striking seven aces and dropping just five points on his first serve throughout the match. He did not face a single break point in the hour and 29-minute encounter.
“I thought from really the beginning to the end, I played really well and on a consistent, high level and [with] good intensity,” Djokovic said. “Shoulder is good. I have not felt anything in the previous days, including today, in the match… So I am very pleased to say that and to feel healthy.”
The Tokyo debutant is looking to claim his fourth title of the season this week, having already won the Australian Open, Madrid and Wimbledon. He has not exactly blown the field away as he has done in some of his vintage years, but a return of two Grand Slam titles represents another quality campaign for the world No. 1.
There is still plenty to play for between now and the rest of the year, with the Serbian looking to hang on to his world No. 1 ranking. Djokovic is this week celebrating his 271th week as world No. 1, moving into third on the all-time list behind Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, but he is just 640 points ahead second-placed Rafael Nadal.
The Serbian, who regained the No. 1 ranking after an incredible resurgence in the second half of 2018, still has to defend his Shanghai Masters title and a runner-up finish in Paris before the Nitto ATP Finals, while Nadal has nothing to defend for the rest of the year.
Djokovic will expect to reach the Tokyo quarter finals on Wednesday when he takes on Japanese wildcard, Go Soeda in the second round.
Soeda scored a feel-good win in the first round, taking out world No. 37, Jan-Lennard Struff to score his first ever win at the Japan Open. The 35-year-old had fallen in the opening round in his 12 previous attempts.
The Japanese withstood 12 aces from Struff, while doing an excellent job on his own deliveries as he fought back from a set down to pull off the 4-6 7-6 6-3 win. Soeda won 85% of points behind his first serve, and did not get broken in the second and third sets. The world No. 133 did not give up any break opportunities in the deciding set.
“I’m really happy. I didn’t win this tournament in 18 years. I was playing since 2001, so I’m very happy to win for the first time here”, the Japanese said after his historic win.
It was also his first tour-level main draw victory since defeating Darian King in Washington in 2015.
Soeda reached a career-high ranking of 47th in July 2012, but he has been out of the top-100 since July 2015, and has mainly been plugging away on the Challenger Tour. Before this week, he had not played an ATP Tour main draw match since Tokyo 2017.
Wednesday’s meeting with Djokovic will be his first against a reigning world No. 1, and his 13th against a top-ten player. He has lost his previous 12.
“I want to play him. I’ve never played against a World No. 1. So if I play him, I’ll be really happy”, he said after beating Struff on Monday.
The Japanese got his wish on Tuesday following Djokovic’s victory over Popyrin, and he looks and sounds like he wants to enjoy the opportunity and the occasion.
I don’t think he will be getting a lot more than that, with Djokovic an overwhelming favourite to move into the quarter finals.
Novak Djokovic vs Go Soeda is live from Tokyo on Wednesday, 2 October from 2:00pm local time/ 6:00pm BST