, , ,



What an intriguing match-up, pitting the number one men’s player (coming off a solid runner-up effort in Canada last week) against a qualifier with a history of pushing the champ to elevate his game. I bring up Canada, in relation to Djokovic because in the late rounds of that tournament, he had to deal with a nagging elbow injury, which may have tipped the edge in favor of the eventual winner Andy Murray who was in the midst of a bit of a losing streak against Djokovic.

Djokovic also has a problem with Cincinnati. This is the one ATP 1000 series event he has failed to win, up to this point, but he seems as eager to rectify that glaring hole in his resume, while on his way to reminding us that Serena’s historic race to the Grand Slam isn’t the only storyline worth paying attention to as we head into the US Open.

But then, during his second service game of the first set, Djokovic gets broken. He’s not quite engaged, displaying mild frustration, much like Stan Wawrinka did during his initial rounds here. Of course, you expect Djokovic to right the ship quickly. Thanks to a couple of double faults from Dolgopolov, he gets a break back, and immediately surrenders another. Dolgopolov plays a few nervous points, but aces Djokovic to take the first set 6-4.

With Djokovic still somewhat listless, the second set meanders along, until Djokovic, while serving to hold at 3-2, seems to experience pain in his abdomen. He calls for the trainer and questions arise. How serious is this? Will he continue? Or save himself for the Open? He ventures on, but it is interesting to note that on major points (especially on his serve), he tends to go with off-speed slices rather than attempting the big boomers. He and Dolgopolov trade service games, setting up a tiebreak. Djokovic uses guile to claim the second set 7-6 (7-5), and it looks like Dolgopolov might crack, realizing that he has let an opportunity slip away.

He ends up calling for the trainer himself in the third, having his foot tended to, but it is his free-swinging ways that eventually sink him. Dolgopolov is an unconventional player, when it comes to setting up points, but this can be a real strength under the right circumstances. He can shift from simply moving the ball with slice and touch to going for a pummeling winner at the drop of a hat. Such improvisation can confuse many players, but Djokovic refuses to bite, maintaining control over the pace and proceedings. The set ends relatively quickly at 6-2, with Djokovic gaining the support of the crowd, which was not necessarily in his corner from the start. Cincinnati tennis fans wanted to root for the qualifier, the quirky upstart, but realized it was time to get on the Djoko locomotion.

But who knows what tomorrow will bring? (tt stern-enzi)