World No. 1 Novak Djokovic plays his first match since retiring from the U.S. Open as he competes at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo for the first time this week.
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Djokovic, who retired in the fourth round in New York against Stan Wawrinka with a shoulder injury, returns to action in the Japanese capital and faces a qualifier in the first round, before a potentially dangerous second round against the in-form Jan-Lennard Struff.
Struff meets wildcard Go Soeda in his opening round, but should he get through that, the German will fancy his chances of a potential showdown with Djokovic after winning four of his six matches against top 10 players during a career-best season in 2019.
Struff also upset Marin Cilic last year en route to the Japan Open quarter-finals.
The first seed Djokovic could run into his No. 5 Lucas Pouille, but the Frenchman has been in poor form since losing to the Serbian in the Australian Open semi-finals in January, with other possible quarter-final opponents including Hubert Hurkacz, Joao Sousa or local hope Yoshihito Nishioka.
Third seed David Goffin and sixth seed Marin Cilic are also in Djokovic’s half of the draw, along with the unseeded Denis Shapovalov and Hyeon Chung, while the likes of Borna Coric, Benoit Paire and Alex de Minaur lurk in the bottom half.
Check out the full draw in the tweet below.
Djokovic will be attempting to emulate the feats of fellow ‘Big Four’ members Roger Federer (2006), Rafael Nadal (2010) and Andy Murray (2011) as he looks to win the Japan Open on his tournament debut.
The 32-year-old has backed up his resurgent 2018 season by winning two more Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, but he is under pressure to hold onto the No. 1 ranking over the coming months.
Djokovic is defending champion points in Shanghai and runner-up points at the Paris Masters and Nitto ATP Finals, and should he fail to emulate or better those results, Nadal could pounce, with the Spaniard defending zero points for the remainder of the season and trailing Djokovic by just 640 points.
Nadal isn’t playing this week and might also miss Shanghai the following week as he recovers from a wrist injury that flared up during the Laver Cup.