In potentially one of the most exciting first round encounters at the Canadian Open in Toronto, 13-time Major champion Novak Djokovic makes his return to the Canadian Open against Hyeon Chung. Djokovic is a four-time champion at the Canadian Open and it was in Toronto two years ago that he won the most recent of his 30 Masters 1000 titles. Chung presents a real challenge in the first round, however, and Djokovic may need to find his best from the get go. Who will come out on top?
Both of Djokovic and Chung’s previous matches have come at the Australian Open. The first came in the first round in 2016. Djokovic was then the defending champion and undisputed master of the tennis world. Chung was a little-known though talented teenager. The result was predictable. Djokovic romped home a 6-3 6-2 6-4 victor. When their rivalry was renewed earlier this year in the fourth round, however, Djokovic had been brought low by an injury that was still affecting him. He lost 6-7 5-7 6-7.
Last time out
Djokovic crowned a positive few months by lifting the title at Wimbledon to claim his first Grand Slam since winning the French Open in 2016. His form had been building since reuniting with Marian Vajda at the start of the clay court season, and in SW19 he was a man on a mission. His victory in a five-set semifinal thriller against Nadal, which he won 10-8 in the decider, was perhaps his finest moment, but his 6-2 6-2 7-6 defeat of a weary Kevin Anderson in the final was impressive in its own way.
Chung was forced to withdraw from both the French Open and Wimbledon, no doubt a serious blow for him after making his first Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne in January. He returned to Tour action in Atlanta, where he was the third seed. He began brightly, defeating Taylor Fritz 6-4 7-6, before falling to eventual finalist Ryan Harrison 7-6 2-6 6-7. He then played in Washington, defeating Marcos Baghdatis 6-7 6-4 6-3 before losing to Alex De Minaur 2-6 6-4 2-6.
How do they match up?
Chung is in many ways the mirror image of Djokovic, albeit a less complete one. When watching Chung slide into a defensive backhand, one cannot help but be struck by the similarities to Djokovic’s open stance defence on the same shot. It was that impressive court coverage that was central to Chung’s defeat of Djokovic in Melbourne, with the Korean time and time again frustrating his more illustrious opponent with phenomenal retrieving and flashing winners hit at the end of his range.
But that Djokovic was a shadow of his former glory. The player Chung will face in Toronto most likely will not be. Djokovic at his best is able to spread the court magnificently when on the attack, pulling opponents from pillar to post, and possesses offensive capabilities that Chung cannot match. His returning was also as sharp as ever at Wimbledon, where he seemed to be able to break at will. As Chung’s serve is the weakest part of his game, that will be concerning indeed for the world #23.
If Djokovic is able to replicate the sort of form he showed at the All England Club, he will be a frightening prospect during the North American hard court swing. He should also be able to remind Chung that, as impressive as his imitation of him is, there is still only one Djokovic, and he does not take kindly to being beaten at his own game. The Korean has the quality to test the Serb, but overcoming challenges is what all-time greats do. Djokovic in three.