In what is perhaps the pick of the third round matches, three-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on Kyle Edmund for a place in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. The Serbian has been on a long road back to his best after injury, but appears to be perilously close to it. But Edmund is riding high after a career-best season highlighted by a run to the Australian Open semifinals and will have the vocal support of the crowd, to whom Djokovic has often been the villain. Who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Edmund have met four times in a head-to-head Djokovic leads 3-1. He picked up those three wins in a row, beginning in their first match in the second round at the Miami Open in 2016 where Djokovic won comfortably 6-3 6-3. He was no more troubled in dispatching Edmund later that year at the US Open in the fourth round, winning 6-1 6-2 6-4. He beat Edmund again last year in Indian Wells 6-4 7-6. But in their most recent meeting in Madrid, Edmund turned the tables winning 6-3 2-6 6-3.
Path to the third round
Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon fresh from making his first final in nearly a year at Queen’s (lost to Cilic). He opened his Wimbledon campaign against Tennys Sandgren, and dismantled the American, who earlier this season reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, in straight sets 6-3 6-1 6-2. He was similarly impressive in brushing aside Horacio Zeballos 6-1 6-2 6-3. However, slightly worryingly he did have a medical timeout late in the match after looking as though he’d tweaked a leg muscle.
Edmund faced back-to-back qualifiers to begin his Wimbledon campaign. The first was 25-year-old Australian Alex Bolt, who had beaten his countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis in the final round of qualifying at Roehampton. He never threatened to do the same to Edmund who won fairly comfortably 6-2 6-3 7-5 although he did have to recover from a break down in the third set. Edmund then saw off American Bradley Klahn 6-4 7-6 6-2 to claim his first career victory on Centre Court.
How do they match up?
Djokovic at his best is a relentless baseliner, almost without equal, capable of hurting opponents with both his forehand and backhand and blunting their attacks with his elastic defence. That is the Djokovic that has appeared most often so far this grass court season. The Serbian has also served impressively so far at Wimbledon, an encouraging sign. Though he served no aces against Sandgren, he made 73% of his first serves, winning the point 83% of the time and he hit 15 aces against Zeballos.
On paper, Edmund’s serving statistics against Bolt and Klahn look similarly impressive, but he will face a far sterner examination when stepping to the line against Djokovic than he did against the two qualifiers. The Serbian’s returning skills are rightly legendary, and Edmund will need to increase the variety and power of his serving if he wants to post similar numbers. He will also need his forehand to be firing. It is the cornerstone of his attack, and without he still can look a little toothless.
Djokovic looks hungry again, and that is not a good thing for Edmund. The Serbian turned himself into a formidable grass court machine and is far more comfortable on the surface than Edmund. He is also a more versatile player and thus can hurt Edmund in more ways than the Briton can respond. Edmund has enough quality to make a match of this, but unless Djokovic’s medical timeout was serious rather than precautionary, he doesn’t have enough to win. Djokovic in four.