In an intriguing third-round battle at the Canadian Open in Toronto, four-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas. Djokovic recently confirmed his return to tennis’ top table with a 13th Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon and will be looking to put himself in pole position to claim the US Open. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, is in the midst of an impressive breakout season, which included a run to the fourth round at the Championships. But who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Tsitsipas, but unsurprisingly the difference in experience between them is vast. Djokovic has claimed 810 wins and 69 titles, of which 13 have been Majors and 30 have been Masters 1000s. That has rewarded him with over $114 million of prize money. In contrast, Tsitsipas has never won a title, losing his only final so far in Barcelona to Nadal, and has a record of 31-28 on Tour.
Path to the third round
Djokovic, in his first match since defeating Kevin Anderson in straight sets to lift a fourth Wimbledon title, took on Mirza Basic in the round of 64 in Toronto. It was smooth sailing in the first set, but Djokovic’s concentration wavered in the second set, as he twice threw away service breaks. But in the end, he closed it out comfortably in a tiebreak. One break in each set was enough to see off Peter Polansky in the second round, a match in which Djokovic rarely impressed but was hardly tested.
Tsitsipas, who last week was a semifinalist in Washington (lost to Zverev), opened his Toronto campaign against Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur, a difficult draw against a man ranked three places above him at world #24. But Tsitsipas delivered an excellent attacking performance to win through 6-3 7-6 and set up a clash with French Open finalist Dominic Thiem. The Austrian, however, has won just three matches since that memorable run and Tsitsipas added to his concerns with a 6-3 7-6 win.
How do they match up?
This match should, in large part, pit Tsitsipas’ attack against Djokovic’s formidable defensive skills. What makes Djokovic so dangerous is his ability to defend on the front foot. Whilst his court coverage is commendable and he can and does reach balls others wouldn’t, he is at his best when standing up to pressure on the baseline and throwing it back at his opponent. It’s why Djokovic’s court position, he typically hugs the baseline, is so important to his success.
He is also without a real weakness to exploit. Tsitsipas has plenty of power, particularly on his excellent forehand, but he will meet stern opposition regardless of whether he chooses to go into the Djokovic forehand or backhand. The Greek’s own single-hander will also need to be solid to withstand the searching examination from Djokovic’s backhand. Tsitsipas also faces the unique challenge of facing the Djokovic return, with the Serb surely the greatest returner of all time.
Djokovic has failed to spark into life so far in Toronto. But his victories have been routine, and one suspects his failure to play his best tennis is a reflection of the reality that he did not have to, something both he and his opponents looked aware of. Tsitsipas, however, will require a much higher calibre of performance. Fortunately, it is one the Serb should be capable of delivering. It may still take a while for him to click into gear, but when he does, he will have enough. Djokovic in three.