In the latest instalment of what has been a fine rivalry, Novak Djokovic takes on Fernando Verdasco for a place in the French Open quarterfinals. The Serbian is looking to get back to the sort of form that saw him regularly contending for and winning Grand Slams, and has shown signs over the past couple of weeks that he is getting there. But he will face a serious test against the always dangerous Verdasco, who has already down one big name. Who will reach the last eight?
Djokovic and Verdasco have played fourteen times over the course of their careers in a head-to-head that Djokovic leads ten matches to four. But it was Verdasco who won their first two matches, defeating a teenaged Djokovic in 2005 in the third round in New York 6-1 4-6 6-7 6-4 6-4. He scored another win in Hamburg a year later, winning 6-4 6-3. Djokovic defeated Verdasco for the first time in 2007 in Paris in the fourth round, winning 6-3 6-3 7-6. That was the first of five straight wins for the Serb.
Verdasco then scored back-to-back wins against Djokovic in Monte Carlo in 2010 in the semifinals and a month later in Rome in the last eight. However, the Spaniard hasn’t beaten Djokovic since. The former world #1 has scored wins against Verdasco in Melbourne twice, in 2015 in the third round and 2017 in the first round, as well as twice defeating him in Doha, saving a number of match points before doing so in 2017, and winning in Beijing in 2013.
Path to the fourth round
Djokovic began his campaign for a second French Open crown against Rogerio Dutra da Silva, defeating the Brazilian qualifier 6-3 6-4 6-4 in a strangely flat atmosphere. He then bested another qualifier, Spanish young gun Jaume Munar, 7-6 6-4 6-4. That set up a clash against another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, whose mother had tragically passed away less than a week before the French Open. Bautista Agut somehow delivered a superb performance and Djokovic was forced to play at something close to his very best to win in four, 6-4 6-7 7-6 6-2.
Verdasco, the 30th seed, started in Paris with a hard-fought five set win over Yoshihito Nishioka, who served for the match deep in the fifth, but ultimately lost 7-6 4-6 3-6 7-6 5-7. He was rather more convincing in defeating Argentina’s Guido Andreozzi in straight sets 6-3 6-2 6-2. Verdasco then delivered an excellent performance to upset the fourth seeded Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets 7-6 6-2 6-4.
How do they match up?
This match will effectively be decided by whether or not Verdasco can consistently hit through Djokovic’s defence. The Serbian showed his defensive qualities against Roberto Bautista Agut, who despite playing one of the best matches of his life and hitting over 25 forehand winners, was unable to get past Djokovic enough to win the match. Verdasco does, however, bring more power to the table than his compatriot, particularly off the forehand side.
The Spaniard hits his forehand just about as hard as anyone, and with an amount of topspin that only Rafael Nadal can better. He can also do real damage with his first serve. But, Djokovic is arguably the best returner in the history of the sport and has been taking full advantage of the second serves he’s faced this clay court season. Verdasco managed an impressive 72% of first serves made against Dimitrov and will be aware of the importance of doing so again.
Djokovic was made to work extremely hard by Bautista Agut, but he will have taken confidence from the fact that he was able to raise his level when he had to. He will need to do so again when he takes on Verdasco, but if he can, then he should be able to get the win. He has the defensive quality to withstand Verdasco and enough in his own arsenal to hurt the Spaniard. Djokovic to return to the quarterfinals in four sets.