In his first match since the Australian Open former world #1 Novak Djokovic takes on Taro Daniel of Japan. Djokovic, who since his last match has had ‘a small medical intervention’ on his right elbow which has been troubling him for nearly two years, will hope to come into the tournament pain free. Daniel, meanwhile, is currently outside the top 100 at world #109, but on his day is a fine player. But who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Daniel have never met before. However, they do have vastly different levels of experience. Daniel has just 18 Tour-level wins to his name, from a total of 62 matches played. He has not yet made a Tour-level final, although he does have five Challenger titles to his name. Djokovic, in contrast, is one of the most decorated players in the sport’s history. The Serbian has 786 match wins to his name and has won 68 titles including five Indian Wells crowns.
Path to the second round
Djokovic, as tenth seed, received a bye into the second round. Daniel, however, had to qualify into the main draw. He did so by defeating Evan Song in the first round of qualifiers 6-4 6-0 and then Mackenzie McDonald in the second. That set up a match with fellow qualifier, Cameron Norrie. It was a match full of momentum swings. Daniel made the better start, winning the first set 6-3, but in the second he couldn’t get close to Norrie who lost just one game. However, the match then turned again as Daniel dominated the decider, winning it 6-1 to reach the second round.
How do they match up?
Djokovic, at his best, was one of the best baseliners ever to play the sport. Not only were his forehand and backhand not weaknesses, both were real weapons. The Serb believes his backhand down the line is best shot, but it is arguably his cross court forehand with which he is able to do most damage. The Serbian can hit it with real power, and is also adept at finding tight angles, which allows him to pull opponents out of position and gain the upper hand in the rally.
His movement is also peerless. Alongside Nadal and Murray, Djokovic changed the way player’s defend with all three able to turn defence into attack in an instant. Djokovic is also arguably the best at defending from the corners in the game, particularly on the backhand side where his flexibility is a major asset. One question mark in his game is his serve. Early in his career it was a problem area, and though he worked hard to turn it into a weapon and succeeded in doing so, since his elbow injury he has altered his motion.
He does not yet look entirely comfortable with the change and it has cost him power off both the first and second delivery. Double faults have also been a real problem, particularly early on in matches. That is something that Taro Daniel will surely look to take advantage of. The Japanese is a fine baseliner and his court coverage is impressive, although not in Djokovic’s league. His best shot is his forehand and he will need it to be firing to get through Djokovic’s defence.
It is hard to see Daniel getting a result from this match. Though Djokovic lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open in straight sets and hasn’t played much tennis over the past eight months, he generally begins tournaments well. He was also impressive in the early rounds at the Australian Open before injury caught up with him. Djokovic probably can’t win the title, but Daniel won’t be the man to stop him.
Who do you think will win the match? Let us know in the comments below!