In a battle between the soon-to-be Laver Cup teammates, Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic takes on defending Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov in third-round action. Djokovic reclaimed his place at the top of the tennis world with his Wimbledon triumph, but looked short of focus in Toronto. Dimitrov, meanwhile, has endured a torrid few months and is in desperate need of some good results. But who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Dimitrov have met eight times so far in a rivalry the Serbian has dominated with seven wins to Dimitrov’s one. It began in 2012 with a comfortable 6-3 6-2 win for Djokovic in Shanghai who won again in 2013 in Indian Wells. Dimitrov then scored his only win thus far in Madrid 7-6 6-7 6-3. Djokovic’s five further wins have included a 6-4 3-6 7-6 7-6 win at Wimbledon in the last four and most recently a 6-4 6-1 win at Queen’s Club in June.
Path to the third round
Djokovic, outside the top eight seeds in Cincinnati for the first time since 2006, began his campaign against Steve Johnson of the USA, who won the title in Newport last month. Djokovic struck first, breaking late to win the first set. He carved out a lead in the second, but Johnson fought back and saved eight match points before Djokovic eventually prevailed 6-4 7-6. The Serb then overcame a slow start to oust Adrian Mannarino in three, 4-6 6-2 6-1.
Dimitrov found some much needed form in Toronto, winning a couple of rounds before taking a bruising defeat at the hands of Kevin Anderson. He then began his title-defence in Cincinnati against a potentially tricky first-round opponent Mischa Zverev of Germany. The net-rushing Zverev had dispatched Damir Dzumhur with ease in the first round and gave a good account of himself against Dimitrov. But the Bulgarian was too strong in the vital moments, winning 7-6 7-5.
How do they match up?
In order to win this match, Dimitrov will have to hit through Djokovic. Aggressiveness has to be the order of the day for the fifth seed, because he does not have the consistency from the back of the court to outlast Djokovic. But the Serbian has not looked entirely comfortable in North America thus far and so if Dimitrov can make a fast start and keep his opponent moving, he may be rewarded. But he will need his serve and forehand to be firing.
Particularly the former. His first serve is a very useful weapon, but his second lacks confidence and conviction. If he gives Djokovic too many looks at it, the former world #1 will destroy him. He will also need to bring his forehand into play as often as he can in order to defend his backhand, which is a serious weakness and one Djokovic will know he can exploit. Dimitrov does volley well, but he will have to choose his moments to approach wisely on account of Djokovic’s formidable passing shots.
This is actually a good time for Dimitrov to play Djokovic, who has looked short of focus and struggles in the humid conditions in Cincinnati. But he seems to struggle to compete against the game’s biggest names. Too often Dimitrov looks as though he is beaten before he steps on court against them, and that negativity has cost him more than once. If Dimitrov can deliver his best he will have a good chance, but if he fails to do so yet again, expect a straight sets Djokovic win.