World No. 1, Novak Djokovic continues his quest for a fifth Shanghai Masters title when he faces Greek young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter finals on Friday.
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Defending champion, Djokovic is on a seven-match winning streak in Shanghai, while he has also won his last seven matches on the tour, having claimed the Japan Open title in Tokyo last week.
The world No. 1 is now up to four titles for the season, adding last week’s triumph in Tokyo to prior successes at the Australian Open, Madrid and Wimbledon. It has not been the dominant Djokovic of 2011 or 2015, but this has still been a pretty impressive season, and he’ll now look to finish it with a flourish by winning a few more titles, and ending the year as No. 1. That year-end No. 1 ranking remains very much up for grabs, with Rafael Nadal and Djokovic set to dispute top spot in the remainder of the season.
Playing his first tournament since a shoulder complaint forced his retirement from a fourth-round meeting with Stan Wawrinka at the US Open, Djokovic has moved through the Shanghai draw without much alarm, beating Denis Shapovalov 6-3 6-3 in his tournament opener, and taming the big-serving John Isner 7-5 6-3 in the second round.
There were no break points through the first 11 games of the match against Isner, but Djokovic struck at the very end, converting the sole break point of the set to take the opening set. He rode that momentum into the second set and quickly established a 3-0 lead, from where he would not be caught. It was an excellent serving day for the world No. 1, who sent down nine aces, found his first serve 79% of the time, won 88% of his first serve points (36/41). In fact, he dropped just eight points on serve throughout the match.
“It’s always a big challenge returning the serve of Isner,” said Djokovic. “He’s got one of the biggest serves of all time. He’s one of the tallest guys ever to play tennis. Obviously, with that height, the serve is a huge weapon and huge advantage”.
“I managed to kind of read his serve and find a good position on the return, at the end of the first set and also [at the] beginning of the second. I won five games in a row, and that was the key, obviously having a break each set, and then I kind of held my serve. I thought it was one of the best serving matches I had lately.”
The 32-year-old will continue his campaign on Friday when he plays Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas will book his spot at the Nitto ATP Finals if he beats Djokovic on Friday (or if Fabio Fognini does not defeat Daniil Medvedev in the earlier quarter final). Either way, the Greek, who is currently sixth in the Race to London, looks set to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals at some point in the nearest future.
That would be the fitting conclusion to what has been a wonderful season for the young Greek. He has had his bad patches, most notably when he went into Beijing on a five-match losing streak, but the good he’s done in 2019 far outweighs the bad.
He began with a big bang of course, beating Roger Federer en route the semi-finals of the Australian Open, before going on to claim titles in Marseille and Estoril, reach finals in Dubai and Madrid, and break into the top ten.
The Greek had arrived at last week’s China Open in Beijing on a five-match losing streak, but he returned to form with a solid run to the final in the Chinese capital, moving through a quality field that included Dusan Lajovic, Nikoloz Basilashvili, John Isner and Alexander Zverev before losing to Dominic Thiem.
Tsitsipas hadn’t gone beyond the third round in his two previous visits to Shanghai, but he’s produced his best run at the tournament this week, battling past Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 7-6, and Hubert Hurkacz 7-5 3-6 7-6. Tsitsipas only served at 57% against Hurkacz, but he protected his serve very well, winning 74% of points on his first serve, and 73% on his second. He also saved four of the five break points he faced. The final set went by without any break points, but Tsitsipas took early control of tie break and went on to close out the match on his third match point.
Friday’s meeting with Djokovic is the second between both men- Tsitsipas won their only previous hard court encounter in Toronto last year, while Djokovic eased to a 6-3 6-4 victory in their Madrid rematch.
Tsitsipas has a naturally aggressive game, and that will be the way to go if he’s to beat Djokovic on Friday. He’s got to serve well, be really aggressive with the forehand, and come to the net as often as he can, because as good as he is from the baseline, I don’t think he’ll hit through the world No. 1 from the back of the court.
That said, Djokovic has the perfect counter to aggression with his incredible mobility and defensive skills, and he appears to be nearing that sort of mood when he feel he cannot lose.
Novak Djokovic vs Stefanos Tsitsipas is live from Shanghai on Friday, 11 October from 2:00pm local time/ 7:00am BST