In his first match of the grass court season, former world #1 and three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic will look to continue his upturn in form at Queen’s Club. The Serbian may not be at the peak of his powers, but he will certainly feel like he is heading in the right direction, and he may have a real shot at winning the title at Queen’s. Standing in his way is Australia’s John Millman. Will Djokovic get a good thing going again or will Millman derail his ambitions?
Djokovic and Millman have never met on Tour before, but there is a vast gulf in experience between the two. Djokovic, despite being just two years older than his opponent, has accomplished far more so far in his career. He holds a record of 797 match wins against just 171 defeats. Millman’s record, in contrast, is 32-58. The Australian has reached a Tour-level final, at the Hungarian Open this year (lost to Cecchinato), but that pales in comparison with Djokovic’s haul of 68 titles.
Last time out
Djokovic’s good run of form on the clay, that had seen him reach the last four in Italy, backed by the fervent support of the crowd, and progress to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros came to a grinding halt at the hands of Marco Cecchinato. The Serb appeared discomfited by a slight neck problem throughout and never entirely came to grips with the task at hand, losing 3-6 6-7 6-1 6-7, despite having chances in both the second and fourth sets. A forgivable loss perhaps, but the Djokovic of old it was certainly not.
Millman’s French Open campaign ended early with the Australian exiting in the first round at the hands of Denis Shapovalov in straight sets. He fared no better in Stuttgart, his first grass court tournament of the season, where he lost 2-6 2-6 to Guido Pella in the round of 32. However, he got a couple of wins under his belt in the qualifying at Queen’s Club, defeating Nicolas Mahut 3-6 6-3 7-6 and Marius Copil of Romania 6-3 6-3 to secure his place in the main draw.
How do they match up?
At the peak of his powers there were few, if any players capable of going toe-to-toe with Djokovic from the back of the court. He was rock solid off both his forehand and backhand and was well-capable of upping the ante to strike winners from either wing. He was also comfortable moving into the forecourt and was a competent volleyer without ever being amongst the best. Currently, no element of his game is working as it once did, but equally all look to be improving.
Millman will bring impressive consistency from the baseline into his battle with Djokovic. He lacks any major weapons, but will likely look to do most of his damage with his forehand. How well he serves will be crucial, however, against a returner of Djokovic’s calibre. Millman is not one of the biggest servers, but if he gives Djokovic too many easy looks on first and second serves he will be in trouble, particularly on a fast grass court. A high risk, high reward strategy may be his only option.
Millman, who has three competitive grass court matches under his belt this season to Djokovic’s none may be hoping to catch the Serbian cold. But unfortunately for the world #63, he doesn’t have the power to hit Djokovic hard and keep hitting him. Instead, his consistent style will likely give Djokovic rhythm, and if Djokovic can find his rhythm, it’s hard to see how Millman can win. Djokovic in straight sets.