Wimbledon champion and world #10 Novak Djokovic will look to continue his quest for a first Cincinnati Masters title when he takes on Adrian Mannarino of France. Winning the title would complete the unprecedented Career Golden Masters for the Serb as it is the only one of the Masters 1000 tournaments he has never won. But Mannarino is never an easy customer and Djokovic will have his work cut out to get the win. Who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Mannarino have met three times so far with all the matches having unusually come on grass courts. They have also all been won by Djokovic. He claimed his first win over the Frenchman in the second round at Wimbledon in 2016 in straight sets 6-4 6-3 7-6. He then beat Mannarino at the Championships again a year later when he won 6-2 7-6 6-4 in the fourth round. Their most recent meeting came earlier this year at Queen’s where Djokovic won 7-5 6-1.
Path to the second round
Djokovic arrived in Cincinnati after a lacklustre performance in Toronto where he fell in the third round to eventual finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. His opening opponent in Ohio was the dangerous American Steve Johnson, who won the title in Newport last month. Djokovic struck first, winning the first set with a late break and then immediately broke to start the second. But Johnson broke back and hung tough to withstand eight match points. But his luck ran out on the ninth as Djokovic won 6-4 7-6.
Mannarino, who lost in the first round in Canada to Sam Querrey, began his Cincinnati Masters against Italy’s Marco Cecchinato. Cecchinato stunned the tennis world by reaching the Roland Garros semifinals earlier this year, a run which included victory over Djokovic. But he has never won a Tour-level match on a hard court. Nonetheless he made a good start against Mannarino to win the first set. But the Frenchman fought back, scraping through a 6-7 6-2 7-6 winner.
How do they match up?
Djokovic, at his best, is a ruthless baseline operator equally comfortable in defence and attack. Both his forehand and backhand are formidable weapons, his serve is usually extremely reliable and his movement almost peerless. He is also surely the greatest returner the sport has ever seen, although that element of his game was some way short of the high standards Djokovic usually sets, particularly against Tsitsipas.
But Mannarino does not have the Greek’s power when stepping to the line and so will likely have to deal with pressure on serve for much of the match. But what he lacks in power, with his groundstrokes also rather short in that department, he makes up for with court craft and his ability to counterpunch. He also hits an unusually flat ball, which is hard to attack and can skid through the court. His backhand dropshot is a favoured weapon and Djokovic will have to be wary of.
Mannarino has given a fairly good account of himself in all of his previous meetings with Djokovic without ever really looking like winning. He has shown he has the variety to keep Djokovic off balance, at least in the early going. But the Serbian has eventually found the holes in Mannarino’s game in the past and there seems to be no reason to expect a different outcome this time around. It may well be tight early on, but Djokovic will advance in straight sets all the same.