Rome: Djokovic Dismantles Dolgopolov In Straights
Novak Djokovic, former world number one and 2017 Italian Open finalist, may have won his first-round match in under an hour, but there is still much work to be done. Alexandr Dolgopolov, an unpredictable and normally dangerous opponent, was playing just his second match since the 2018 Australian Open because of a right wrist injury.
Although the Ukrainian is currently ranked 57th in the world, he has been as high as 13 with impressive wins over Rafa Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori.
While Djokovic led their head to head 5-0 heading into today’s match, the Serbian knew he would have to maintain his focus and intensity throughout for Dolgopolov’s arsenal of shots, particularly the slice, are formidable.
With 600 points to defend this week in Rome, Djokovic risks falling out of the top 30 and not being seeded at the French Open later this month. The soon to be thirty-one-year-old is currently ranked #18 and has not won a grand slam title since the 2016 French Open.
Following poor performances on the hardcourts earlier this spring after undergoing elbow surgery, his results on clay were only slightly better. He came to Rome batting 500 losing to Martin Klizan in Barcelona and an in-form Kyle Edmund in Madrid. His most encouraging loss on the dirt came in Monte Carlo where he battled but succumbed to world #8 Dominic Thiem, 7-6, 2-6, 3-6.
In his 6-1, 6-3 victory over Dolgopolov, the serve, undeniably paid dividends; 6 aces with 0 double faults. He won 80% of first serve points and an impressive 67% of second serve points. He was equally effective when returning serve, winning 46% of first serve return points and almost 60% of second serve return points.
The 12-time grand slam champion, while never in danger, facing just one break point in the match, has yet to approximate the level of play – both offensive and defensive- last observed during the 2016 season. Having parted ways with Andre Agassi and Radek Stapanek earlier this year, Djokovic is once again under the tutelage of his former long-time coach, Marian Vajda.
There is clearly room for improvement in both court positioning and shot selection, but neither will improve if his once-burgeoning confidence, bordering on arrogance, is missing in action.
In the following round, Djokovic will face a qualifier and potentially John Isner in the third over whom he maintains a winning record though they have never played on clay.
The field at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while missing world #1 Roger Federer, includes the remaining top nine players. It remains to be seen whether Nadal will recover from his recent loss to Thiem and if Alexander Zverev, the winner in Madrid over Thiem, will defend his title at the Foro Italico. Ranking points, resumed rivalries, and bragging rights are on the line as the road to Roland Garros narrows and grand slam glory is within reach.