After a fine week in the Italian capital that has left many suggesting Novak Djokovic is nearly back to his best, the Serbian former world #1 will look to continue his revival against Rogerio Dutra da Silva. The 34-year-old Brazilian is a veteran who has made his career grinding out wins on clay courts across the globe. Djokovic has quarterfinal points to defend from last year, whilst da Silva will be desperate to claim what would surely be the biggest win of his career. But who will come out on top?
The pair have met just once before, in a match contested six years ago at the US Open in the second round. Djokovic, who was the defending champion, won it comfortably, dismissing da Silva 6-2 6-1 6-2 and going onto reach the final. Djokovic is also vastly more experienced than da Silva, despite being three years his junior. Whilst the Brazilian only has one win at the French Open and five at Slam-level, Djokovic has twelve Grand Slams to his name and 240 match wins at the Slams.
Last time out
Djokovic had a confidence building week in Rome ahead of the French Open. Despite coming into the tournament with just three clay court wins to his name for the year, the Serbian displayed some of his best tennis for sustained periods, including in a thrilling three-set victory over Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals. Nadal stopped him in straight sets in the last four, but only after a titanic clash in the first set. Djokovic still isn’t there yet, but he looked to be well on his way to getting there in Italy.
The Brazilian, currently ranked someway outside the top 100 at world #134, hasn’t spent much time playing at the biggest events so far this year. His last tournament came at a Challenger in Bordeaux where he was defeated in the first round by former French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis, despite winning the first set. However, he did battle through the French Open qualifying impressively, defeating Christian Garin, Andrej Martin and Zdenek Kolar without losing a set.
How do they match up?
Central to Djokovic’s success over the years has been his ability to reach so many balls and return them with interest. He has an incredible ability to control the ball at the very edge of his range, which makes him incredibly difficult to hit through. However, he is not simply a grinder. Both his forehand and backhand are versatile, dangerous weapons and Djokovic has long excelled at changing direction in the rally. His serve also looks to be improving after injury forced a slight change to his technique.
Da Silva has neither Djokovic’s versatility nor power. However, he does have impressive stamina and reliable groundstrokes. The Brazilian, who has a career-high ranking of world #63 which he achieved last year, may feel confident in testing Djokovic’s legs. The Serbian hasn’t played nearly as much tennis as most players in the draw, and has faded in the closing stages of matches this year, notably against Edmund and Klizan. If Djokovic’s fitness fails him, he may find da Silva an unrelenting opponent.
Djokovic’s exploits in Rome may have slightly prematurely raised expectations of what he can accomplish in Paris. He may well also have to cope without the fan support that he received so much of in Italy. But, he has shown over the past few weeks that he is playing with increased confidence. More importantly, da Silva doesn’t have the weapons to seriously extend Djokovic. For that reason, it will be the 20th seed to advance.