Wimbledon champion and world #6 Novak Djokovic will continue his quest to win a second-straight Grand Slam when he takes on Joao Sousa in the fourth round at the US Open. Djokovic has twice reigned in New York and, despite some struggles in the first week, looks to be growing in strength as the tournament progresses. Sousa, meanwhile, has become the first Portuguese man ever to reach the fourth round at a Major. But will he be able to stun Djokovic?
Djokovic and Sousa have met four times in the past and the Serbian has won them all without dropping a set. Their first clash came in 2013 in the third round in Flushing Meadows and Djokovic dominated to win 6-0 6-2 6-2. When their rivalry was renewed a year later in Paris in the first round, Sousa again could not lay a glove on Djokovic, who won 6-1 6-2 6-4. He crushed Sousa again in Miami in the third round, winning 6-4 6-1, before beating him for the fourth time in Paris last year, 6-1 6-4 6-3.
Path to the fourth round
Djokovic began his US Open campaign against Marton Fucsovics of Hungary once a junior world #1. On a brutally hot day, he gave Djokovic a run for his money. But the 13-time Major champion outlasted him, reeling off ten straight games to win 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-0. Djokovic then overcame Tennys Sandgren in four though he will surely have been frustrated by his failure to close out the win in straight sets. But he did deliver an excellent performance to dismiss Richard Gasquet 6-2 6-3 6-3 in the third round.
Sousa’s US Open began with an excellent 6-2 6-2 6-3 win against Spain’s Marcel Granollers in the round of 128. That set up a second-round clash with 2017 semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta, the 12th seed. It proved an enthralling battle, until injury forced Carreno Busta to retire with the score 4-6 6-3 5-7 6-2 2-0 in Sousa’s favour. Sousa then faced 17th seed Lucas Pouille, a US Open quarterfinalist in 2016, who he edged out 7-6 4-6 7-6 7-6.
How do they match up?
Sousa is a fine baseliner, with a very good serve and a useful forehand. He has served 23 aces across his first three matches and won at least 69% of the points behind his first serve in every match he has played. But, he will face a significant step up in quality against Djokovic. The Serbian is an excellent defender, but also has the weapons to hurt opponents. Against Gasquet he hit 32 winners for 25 unforced errors, whilst the Frenchman hit a comparatively untidy 47 unforced for 25 winners.
But he is at his most dangerous when returning. He won a respectable 39% of the points against Gasquet’s first serve, but it was the damage he did to Gasquet when the 26th seed was forced to resort to his second serve that proved crucial. Gasquet managed a mere 11 points from 35 behind it. Djokovic, in contrast, defended his second serve well, winning 65% of the points behind it. That goes some way to explaining why Djokovic broke five times without being broken himself.
One fears that Sousa will encounter many of the same problems that Gasquet did in the third round. He does not have the weapons to hit through Djokovic or the consistency and fitness to wear him down in a physical battle. That leaves him with few tactical choices beyond hit and hope. And that rarely provides a path to victory. If the sixth seed is at anything approaching his best, expect him to have far too much for the Portuguese. Djokovic in three.