Novak Djokovic tries to get one step closer to a finals trip in Cincinnati. The Westerm & Southern Open remains the only Masters level title that he has failed to win in his career. For Aleandr Dolgopolov, a win would net the Ukrainian a spot in his first career Masters level final.
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (Q) Alexandr Dolgopolov
A day after nearly falling to 13th seed David Goffin, Djokovic made sure there was no doubt as he crushed 5th seed Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-1. Admittedly, it did not look like Wawrinka gave maximum effort after the first set, but credit should go to Djokovic for breaking his spirit with solid play. The Serb and Swiss were locked in early with exchanged service holds to 4-4. In the next game, Djokovic got into Wawrinka’s serve and broke for a 5-4 lead. He would easily close out the set. Djokovic did a great job of punishing Wawrinka for his failure to land first serves in play. The Swiss landed just 38 percent of his first serves in play which allowed Djokovic to win nine of 19 second serves points in the set. The second set showed that Wawrinka would not be around for long early on as Djokovic broke him to open and never looked back. Wawrinka would win just 45 percent of his service points in the set and only 55 percent overall for the match. Twenty-seven unforced errors by Wawrinka didn’t help his effort either.
Dolgopolov entered play in the quarterfinals as a massive underdog to 6th seed Tomas Berdych. What happened was a nearly flawless performance from Dolgopolov who won 36 of his 44 service points. Berdych was clearly off his game, winning just 56 percent on serve and seeing his serve broken three times out of five chances. It has been a brilliant week for Dolgopolov who started the week having to play his way into the main draw through qualification. He was then slotted into Kei Nishikori’s spot in the draw after Nishikori was forced to skip this week due to injury and fatigue. Dolgpolov used that to his advantage as he beat Santiago Giraldo, Bernard Tomic and Jerzy Janowicz en route to Friday’s quarterfinal. The win over Berdych marked just his eighth win against a Top 10 opponent in 41 tries as he makes his second Masters level final.
These two have met four previous times, all coming in Masters or Grand Slam settings. The most recent meeting was on the hard courts in Miami this spring. Djokovic dropped the opening set in a tie break before dissecting Dolgopolov 7-5, 6-0 for the win. Djokovic ripped apart Dolgopolov’s inconsistent serve as the match progressed, winning 47 percent of the points off Dolgopolov. He broke him seven times on ten chances. Djokovic was broken three times himself on nine chances, but was much stronger overall as he won 67 percent of his service points. The two meetings prior to Miami were on clay. In Rome in 2013, Djokovic had few issues winning 6-1, 6-4. In 2012 in Monte Carlo, Dolgopolov managed a set but Djokovic came storming back again to win 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Their only career Grand Slam meeting was at the 2011 U.S. Open where Djokovic won in straight sets 7-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Alexandr Dolgopolov has long been one of the real enigmas in men’s tennis. He can find grooves good enough to beat anyone like he did in 2011 at the Australian Open. He shocked everyone as a 22-year old relative unknown when he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round and then beat then number four Robin Soderling to get to his only Grand Slam quarterfinal. And then there’s the bad side, losing to the likes of Donald Young at Delray Beach early this year. One of the few to be on that list of players to lose to Young in the past six months or so. He also lost to Paolo Lorenzi in the opening round of the Australian Open this year.
Some of this can be attributed to Gilbert’s Syndrome, a hereditary disease that Dolgopolov has been diagnosed with. It affects the liver and blood and worsens due to travel. That is not exactly the best affliction for a professional tennis player to try to deal with on a week to week basis. It can cause heavy fatigue which again can explain some of Dolgopolov’s up and down nature. Other times, he just seems either disengaged from the game or unable to establish a rhythm against players that you would expect him to beat. That makes him a maddening prospect when you see these flashes of brilliance in beating Top 10 players like Rafael Nadal (London) and Tomas Berdych (Cincinnati) in 2015. Still, there is a reason he is just 8-33 against the Top 10 in his career.
Djokovic showed up in business mode against Wawrinka on Friday and you can certainly expect the same on Saturday. Djokovic definitely wants this title for his “Masters Slam” as the only one he has failed to win in his career. He should also be relishing either a revenge shot against Andy Murray or another chance to dent Roger Federer’s confidence in the final. Dolgopolov’s game is quirky with a lot of varying paced shots and a ton of variety. It can be difficult to prepare for, so Dolgopolov would do well to take advantage of a quick start as Djokovic adapts to his game. The bottom line here is that Djokovic is much more consistent on his ground strokes, serve and return than Dolgopolov. That of course is the understatment of the century. The point being this is on Djokovic to care of business. Dolgopolov has the confidence and game going this week where he can at least trouble Djokovic for a set or two, but in the end this should see Djokovic progressing.
Djokovic wins in three sets