Novak Djokovic will hope to continue his turn around in form when he takes on the tricky Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. Though the Serbian is not yet back to his best, the signs in recent months have been encouraging, with a semifinal appearance in Rome backed up by reaching the quarterfinals in Paris, although his loss there to the unheralded Marco Cecchinato will have been a disappointment. But will he be able to escape Mannarino or will the world #26 spring the upset?
Djokovic and Mannarino have met twice in their careers having faced off at Wimbledon in the last two years. In 2016 they met in the second round with Djokovic defeating Mannarino in straight sets 6-4 6-3 7-6 to win his 30th straight Grand Slam match, before famously crashing out in four sets at the hands of Sam Querrey in the next round. Last year, he again defeated Mannarino in straight sets, 6-2 7-6 6-4 in the fourth round, before injury forced him to retire from his quarterfinal.
Path to the quarterfinals
Djokovic, who had pledged to play at Queen’s if he failed to reach the French Open semifinals, duly arrived in Kensington after his defeat to Cecchinato. He opened his tournament against Australia’s John Millman and dismissed his opponent 6-2 6-1 in an impressive performance. He then scored his first top ten win in over a year by brushing aside 2014 champion and world #5 Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 6-1, although the Bulgarian was far from his best.
Adrian Mannarino began his Queen’s campaign against Dan Evans, who was rather controversially awarded a wildcard after his return from a drugs ban. It proved to be a fairly closely contested encounter, with Mannarino advancing a three-set winner 6-4 0-6 7-5 despite a mid-match wobble. He then overcame his compatriot Julien Benneteau in straight sets 6-4 7-6 to reach his third Tour-level quarterfinal of the season.
How do they match up?
Djokovic’s years of dominance were built on solid foundations from the baseline and an ability to up the ante when he needed to. Since his struggles with injury, his unforced error count has generally been higher, but the former #1 looks to be hitting his groundstrokes with increased confidence. His movement and defence have also been impressive, and he has looked comfortable on the grass so far this year. Crucially he has also served well, making 77% of his first serves against Dimitrov.
Mannarino lacks Djokovic’s easy power from the back of the court, but is a difficult opponent thanks in large part due to his unorthodox technique. For whilst Mannarino may struggle to generate power of his own due to his small takebacks, he uses his opponent’s pace to good effect. His ability to hit the ball flat makes it skid through the court particularly on a grass court, which does much to compensate for a lack of power. However, his serve is a weakness that a returner of Djokovic’s quality will look to exploit.
Djokovic has had enough to get past Mannarino twice before on a grass court, even when not at his very best, and should be able to do so again. He has not yet perhaps shown his very best tennis at Queen’s, but he has not needed to. Crucially though, he has looked like he could raise his level if required. That, coupled with his greater power, particularly on serve, should be enough to see him through in straight sets against Mannarino.