World No. 1 Novak Djokovic overcame his neck issues to secure a comfortable 6-2, 6-4 victory over Tennys Sandgren in the third round of the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday. With the win, Djokovic has set up a quarterfinal clash with German player Jan-Lennard Struff.
There were question marks over the Serb's fitness levels heading into the match against Sandgren, as his stiff neck had given him some trouble versus Ricardas Berankis. But Novak Djokovic put up a clinical performance and showed no signs of discomfort.
One of the shots that Djokovic hit during the match, however, caught everyone's attention in particular.
During the seventh game of the first set, Sandgren was left stranded in the middle of the court after sending a weak lob over the net. Novak Djokovic got in position to put away the overhead, but tried to wrong-foot the American by refusing to hit the ball into the open court.
Sandgren, who had given up on the point, stood his ground, so the smash that Djokovic hit came straight at him. Fortunately the ball missed Sandgren's body, but it struck his racquet with such force that it went flying out of his hand.
The American saw the humor in the situation, as it was clear that Djokovic didn't intend to hurt him. The two players exchanged smiles and then went back to business - with the Serb continuing to control a majority of the points.
While the first set of the match between Novak Djokovic and Tennys Sandgren was a one-sided affair, Sandgren fought back in the second set and won four games on his serve. But his failure to break the World No. 1's serve led to his ouster from the Cincinnati Masters.
Can Novak Djokovic continue his unbeaten 2020 streak at the Western & Southern Open?
Novak Djokovic has been in sublime touch this season. He is yet to lose a match on the ATP tour in 2020; before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he had an 18-0 win-loss record for the year.
The 2020 Australian Open winner was the favorite to win the Western & Southern Open right from the outset. But with Dominic Thiem, Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev, Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini all eliminated before the quarterfinals, Djokovic's path has become even easier.
It is, however, pertinent to note that Filip Krajinovic, the only man who has a singles victory (albeit in an exhibition match) over Novak Djokovic in 2020, is still alive in the competition.
Krajinovic looks in terrific touch too, and he dumped the second-seeded Dominic Thiem out of the tourney in the second round.
Krajinovic was set to compete in the men's doubles event of the Cincinnati Masters along with Novak Djokovic, but the 2016 French Open winner had to pull out due to his neck injury.
The road to the final will not be easy for Krajinovic though, as he faces a stern test in the form of a quarterfinal against Milos Raonic. The Canadian player has ousted Sam Querrey, Dan Evans and Andy Murray without dropping a set so far.
Novak Djokovic also has a potential semifinal date with Daniil Medvedev. The third-seeded Russian had beaten Djokovic in the Cincinnati Masters semifinals last year.
The final phase of this competition promises to be very interesting. Djokovic is the favorite to win, but any of the remaining seven players could spring a surprise.Published 26 Aug 2020, 20:35 IST