2011 and 2015 US Open champion Novak Djokovic will look to continue his 2018 campaign when he takes on the aptly named Tennys Sandgren of the USA. Djokovic had a difficult start to the season, but has roared back into form with titles at Wimbledon and in Cincinnati, and is amongst the favourites for the title. But Sandgren, who made his name in Melbourne where he reached the quarterfinals, will have ambitions of halting him in his tracks. Who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Sandgren have met once previously, with that match coming in July in the first round at Wimbledon. Djokovic had arrived at the All England Club fresh from reaching the final at Queen’s (lost to Cilic), but was accounted amongst the title favourites by few. But he demolished Sandgren on Court One in straight sets 6-3 6-1 6-2 and famously went on to lift the title, beating Rafael Nadal in the last four and Kevin Anderson in the final.
Path to the second round
Djokovic began his US Open against Marton Fucsovics, a former-junior world #1. It took Fucsovics some time to find his way in the senior game, but he has enjoyed a banner year and gave Djokovic a stern test in brutal heat. The Serb at one point looked in danger of an early exit, but ultimately the conditions took a heavier toll on Fucsovics. Despite a heat break, he hit the wall and could not recover with Djokovic winning 10 games in a row to close out a 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-0 win.
Sandgren, who also reached the final in Houston (lost to Johnson), arrived in New York with just one win on Tour since May when he made the quarterfinals in Geneva. He was confronted with the first-round draw of former world #12 and three-time champion on Tour, Viktor Troicki of Serbia. But Troicki has had a dreadful year and finds himself outside the top 100. Sandgren outclassed him to win in straight sets, 6-3 6-4 6-2.
How do they match up?
With the exception of his return of serve, no element of Djokovic’s game immediately stands out as belonging to one of the greatest of all time. But he does not need the obvious weapons of others because he can hurt opponents in so many ways and from nearly anywhere in the court. His movement is superb, and unlike many on the Tour, he does not need to trade court position for time when under pressure, allowing him to defend from the baseline.
He spreads the court excellently with his forehand and backhand, and there are few if any who construct points better than Djokovic. Sandgren, unfortunately for the American, will have to attack into the teeth of that formidable defence with weapons that are serviceable but unremarkable. He has a fine serve and moves onto his forehand well, and his backhand is more reliable than many of his countrymen’s. But they do not look to be weapons to really hurt Djokovic.
Djokovic did struggle badly with the heat at times against Fucsovics and if he plays in similar conditions against Sandgren, the American may have a chance. But Djokovic’s impressive fitness allowed him to recover and fight on and he will not be unduly concerned about the prospect of another physical battle. Especially because he is far superior to Sandgren as a tennis player. Expect Djokovic to reach the third round a straight sets winner.