(Photo credit: REUTERS/Susana Vera)
In what should prove a testing encounter for both men, and an interesting clash for the fans, Novak Djokovic takes on Kyle Edmund of Britain for a place in the third round in Madrid. Djokovic has twice reigned in Madrid, but hasn’t won a Masters 1000 event since Toronto in 2016. Indeed, he’s only won two tournaments since then, both at 250 level. Edmund is making his debut in Madrid, but is so far enjoying a career-best season. Who will come out on top?
Edmund and Djokovic have met three times previously, and the Briton is yet to score a win. The first of those meetings came in 2016 in the second round in Miami when Djokovic was still in his full pomp. Edmund put in a valiant effort but proved no match for the Serbian as he was brushed aside 6-3 6-3. They met again later that year at the US Open in the fourth round under rather different circumstances.
Djokovic’s decline was still a recent phenomenon going into New York that year and he was still considered the title-favourite, but his summer had been plagued by injury. Still, he had too much again for Edmund who was making his debut in the second week of a Slam, winning in straight sets 6-2 6-1 6-4. Their most recent meeting was in Indian Wells last year, where Djokovic was again victorious 6-4 7-6, despite coming into the tournament in very poor form.
Path to the second round
Djokovic, seeded 10th, found himself without a first round bye in Madrid for the first time since the tournament’s switch from indoor hard courts to outdoor clay. He thus began his Madrid campaign against Kei Nishikori, himself a finalist at the event in 2014 (lost to Nadal). It proved to be an engaging battle between two men who at their best would be top ten regulars. Djokovic, despite going down an early break in the first, was the victor, twice breaking Nishikori when the Japanese served to stay in the match to advance 7-5 6-4.
Edmund opened his tournament against Daniil Medvedev of Russia. Medvedev won his first Tour-level title early in the season in Sydney, defeating De Minaur in three sets in the final. But since then the Russian has found consistency hard to come by, having suffered a number of early losses. He was forced to endure another against Edmund, as the 23-year-old pulled away after a reasonably competitive first set to win 6-4 6-0.
How do they match up?
This will be a match contested mostly from the baseline. For that reason court positioning will be crucial, particularly for Edmund. The world #22 possesses the more venomous groundstrokes, particularly on the forehand side, and so will likely look to dictate proceedings. To do that, he will need to maintain a good position, playing as close to the baseline as possible. If he is forced back too often, he will surely find himself unable to compete.
For Djokovic then the task will be one of keeping Edmund back. In his prime it is one he surely would have relished. Against Nishikori he looked close to something approaching his best, and was largely able to match the Japanese from the baseline, although he did hit a concerning number of unforced errors. None-the-less, he will be looking for a similar type of performance in this match. If he can find it again, then Edmund will have his work cut out.
Against Nishikori, Djokovic returned very aggressively, particularly off the second serve. Indeed, it was a forehand return hit for a clean winner that won him the vital opening set. Against Edmund, he would do well to repeat the tactic. The Yorkshireman’s second serve is not one of his strengths, and if Djokovic is able to strike some aggressive returns early on in the match when facing it, Edmund’s confidence in the shot could well suffer.
Djokovic matches at the moment are difficult to predict. The Serb’s search for consistency on his comeback has seen him put in some fine performances, such as against Coric and Nishikori, as well as some very disappointing ones, including a fortnight ago against Martin Klizan in Barcelona. But his form does look to be heading in the right direction now that he is once again working with Marian Vajda and Gebhard Gritsch. If he can play as well as he did against Nishikori, and there’s no reason to suspect that he won’t, expect him to advance in two tight sets.