The 2017 season on the ATP World Tour got underway last week and with three tournaments there was plenty of action to welcome in the new year! Titles were up for grabs in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha, featuring the world’s top ten players, including world number one Andy Murray and the long anticipated return of Rafael Nadal.
Novak Djokovic kept his hopes of defending his crown in Doha alive after he saved five match points to see off Fernando Verdasco in a thrilling match at the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-3.
Verdasco was much the better player in windy conditions in the latter stages of the first set and throughout the second. However, it was the 12-time Grand Slam champion’s sheer will and desire to win which kept him afloat in the tiebreak at 6-2 down as he stayed patient and waited for his opponent to make the errors in the big moments, sealing the tiebreak 9-7 and breaking the Spaniard twice in the final set to secure the win.
The two players had met once before in a high quality second round clash in Miami this year, but it was the world number one who was victorious 6-3, 6-3. Djokovic had played just six games since he won his first round match in four sets last Monday so was feeling very fresh, but potentially undercooked in terms of match play. Meanwhile, Edmund was having the tournament of his life, beating Richard Gasquet in round one before reaching the fourth round of a slam for the first time after defeating John Isner in four sets to set up this clash.
Novak Djokovic is safely through to round two at The All England Club after having the honor of opening proceedings on Centre Court for the third time as defeated Britain’s James Ward 6-0, 7-6(3), 6-4.
The defending champion starts as if he has never been away
The world number one opened his title defense with a hold to love before securing a break of serve after a couple of double faults from the Brit. The world number 177 had 0-40 on the Serb’s serve after hitting a superb backhand crosscourt passing shot. Djokovic did what he does best and protected his serve, finding timely first serves to get to deuce and then saving a fourth break point before holding for a 3-0 lead.
Anther couple of game points came and went for Ward in his second service game, but history repeated itself as Djokovic broke and held once more for 5-0. The British number five then played a horrendous service game, hitting three double faults as the pressure mounted to surrender the set 6-0 after 28 minutes.
Ward’s comeback falls short
After Djokovic held another easy service game, the Serb went to work on Ward’s serve once again. The world number one put away a forehand winner on break point to move 3-0 in front yet again.
The Centre Court crowd gave their largest cheer of the match so far in the fourth game of the set as Ward fired down a second serve ace to get a game on the board in the match. That hold proved to be a turning point for the time being as the Brit moved up 0-40 on the world number one’s serve for the second time. However, on this occasion, the world number 177 got the break back before leveling the score at three games all.
In the eighth game, Djokovic failed to capitalize on three break points at 0-40, much to his frustration, as Ward pulled level again. The warning signs were flashing for the world number one as he had to face three break points in the eleventh game. Yet, some fine serving from the Serb recovered the situation to move 6-5 in front.
Ward, who was playing the world number one for the first time, fell 0-15 and 15-30 behind but came up with two aces out wide to stay in touch, before holding to take us into a second set tiebreak. The world number one claimed an early mini break and took control, moving 5-1 in front at the change of ends. After Ward pulled his crosscourt backhand wide that marked the end of the set, sealing it for the defending champion 7-6(3).
Djokovic regains control
Djokovic made a pivotal breakthrough in the third game and looked likely to move up a double break in the Brit’s next service game, but the world number 177 held on. The Serb was pushed to deuce on serve in game eight but held to move just one away from the win. The world number one secured victory on serve with an ace to complete a straight-sets win 6-0, 7-6(3), 6-4 in two hours and three minutes.
Mark Philippoussis, runner-up at Wimbledon in 2003, believes that tennis has become far more physical over the past decade, compared to when he was competing on the ATP World Tour. This is a view which has been shared by many in recent years, as the game continues to grow, develop and inevitably change with each generation of up and coming players.
The former world number eight had this to say when speaking to Luxury London: ”I’d say the average height of a player is around 6ft 2ins nowadays, but they move around the court like they are 5ft 10ins. Everyone has a bigger serve now, which is heavier from the back.”
With Wimbledon just one week away, Philippoussis had his say on who he thinks will win the tournament this year. ”I would have to say Novak Djokovic is a favorite in the men’s (competition).”
The world number one recently got the monkey off of his back in Paris where he won the French Open for the first time to complete the Career Grand Slam. With this pressure now off the top seed’s shoulders, it makes him a very likely candidate to triumph at The All England Club as he did in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
Philippoussis, 39, also revealed the most challenging player he has ever had to face on a tennis court, with the Australian naming the Chilean Marcelo Rios as his toughest opponent. Rios was known for having great hands and taking the ball early. “Being a lefty, he had that natural slice out wide that would completely take you off the court to open up the other side”, he said. The former Wimbledon runner-up scored a couple of wins against the Chilean, but Rios led their head to head 4-2.
Wimbledon starts next Monday, on the 27th of June and you can follow coverage on VAVEL.com throughout the fortnight.
Novak Djokovic booked his place in the second week of Roland Garros after a comprehensive victory over the British number two Aljaz Bedene in straight sets 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 and beat the fading light in Paris.
The players were originally scheduled to play the last match on court Philippe Chatrier, but the weather saw their match moved to Suzanne Lenglen. However, due to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s retirement in the first set against Ernest Gulbis the players were moved back to Philippe Chatrier before play got underway. Prior to this match, the two players had only met once before, which was also at a Grand Slam in the first round of the Australian Open last year. Djokovic was also victorious on that occasion 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
Fast start from the Serb
The world number one came out firing, holding to love before earning a break point opportunity. The British number two did well to save it, finishing the point with an overhead smash winner, before saving a second break point as well. Djokovic was not to be denied on a third occasion as he forced Bedene to guide the backhand beyond the baseline to secure the break.
After getting a game on the board to settle the nerves Bedene tested the world number one in the fifth game. The Brit was unable to secure the break back on two chances, as Djokovic finally held on his sixth game point to win the game which lasted over eight minutes.
Both players had openings on their opponents serve in the next couple of games, Djokovic at 30-30 and Bedene at 15-30 on the world number ones serve, but neither could make the breakthrough as the Serb maintained his advantage at 5-2.
The world number one seized the moment, imposing himself on the Brit’s serve as he brought up two set points. Bedene saved the first with an ace but pulled his forehand into the tramlines on the second. First set to the Serb 6-2.
Djokovic continued to dominate in set number two
Bedene looked as though he may have caught the world number one cold at the start of the second set as he brought two break points. However, Djokovic calmly hit a forehand winner, overhead smash, and an ace as he hit his way out of the game to move in front 1-0.
After a couple of service holds, Bedene threw in his first real loose service games and a series of four successive unforced errors saw him drop serve for the third time in the match.
Frustration began to set in for the British number two as he dropped serve once again in the sixth game as he fell further behind down 5-1. There was a moment to savor for the Brit as he finally managed to break the Serb serves for the first time before clawing his way back to 5-3 behind. The Brit’s efforts were in vain as Djokovic made no mistake in serving out the set the second time.
More of the same in set three
Bedene had a problem with his eye at the start of the third set, inhibiting as the world number one grabbed an early break once again. This advantage was all that Djokovic needed to close out the set and the match in a nick of time as dusk fell. The Serb through to round four in straight sets, next up: Roberto Bautista Agut.