Three-time champion Novak Djokovic will look to continue his upturn in form when he takes on the aptly named Tennys Sandgren in the first round at Wimbledon. Having reached a semifinal, quarterfinal and final in his last three tournaments Djokovic’s form looks to be returning and that makes him a dangerous proposition. But Sandgren was a quarterfinalist earlier in the year at Melbourne Park and has quality of his own, as well as a taste for controversy. Who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Sandgren have never met competitively before, perhaps unsurprisingly considering prior to this year the American played most of his tennis away from the main Tour. That has left a huge gulf in experience between the two men. Whilst Djokovic owns a record of 801-172 at Tour-level, 68 titles including 12 Slams and has amassed over $100 million in prize money, Sandgren’s career statistics are rather more modest. He has just 14 career wins against 20 losses and no titles and is playing his first Wimbledon.
Last time out
Djokovic had plans to play at Queen’s if he failed to reach the French Open semifinals and after a frustrating four set defeat to Cecchinato in the quarterfinals in Paris he duly arrived at Queen’s. There he produced something close to his best to reach the final, a run that included victory over world #5 Grigor Dimitrov. He came to within a point of claiming the title against Marin Cilic, but the Croatian ultimately just edged out the former world #1 5-7 7-6 6-3.
Sandgren’s ambitions in Paris were doubtless rather more modest in scope than Djokovic’s. The American made his Grand Slam main draw debut in Paris last year, but his attacking style proved ill-suited to the slow clay courts of Roland Garros then as he lost first round to Mikhail Kukushkin in straight sets. He performed slightly better this year, taking a set off Hubert Hurkacz, but again exited in the first round. He has not taken to the court competitively since.
How do they match up?
Djokovic has often been characterised as a defensive baseliner, but that is an oversimplification. Though few move and defend as well as the Serbian, he has plenty of attacking power. His forehand and backhand are lethally accurate when he is at his best, and he is often able to pin opponents back during rallies. His serve, which was seemingly the cause of his elbow issues, looked back to its efficient best at Queen’s and he will surely hope to continue serving well at Wimbledon.
Sandgren will look to keep the points short in this match and the American’s style looks as though it will serve him well on grass although this will be his first ever Tour-level match on the surface. Sandgren will, however, have to deliver one of his best serving performances against the man who is surely the best returner the sport has ever produced. Give Djokovic too many looks at returns and the man from Tennessee may find his first Wimbledon a brief one.
Djokovic turned himself into a formidable grass court player despite struggling on the surface early in his career, and of active players only Federer has more Wimbledon titles than him. He looked comfortable on the surface at Queen’s, and like he was enjoying his tennis again. If he is able to find that level again he will have far too much for Sandgren, whose lack of grass court experience could prove costly. Djokovic in straight sets.