Novak Djokovic’s first two matches since the return of tennis have been night and day in more ways than one.
After clawing past Ricardas Berankis Monday evening, the World No. 1 was much sharper Tuesday afternoon, dismissing Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-4 to reach the Western & Southern Open quarter-finals. The top seed is now 20-0 in 2020, marking the second time he has started his career with a winning streak that long (41-0 in 2011).
Djokovic underwent a medical timeout in his first match against Berankis to have his neck worked on, also reaching for his head in the second set after an awkward landing. But the 2018 champion showed no physical issues in the third round, breaking in the first game of the match to set the tone.
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The Serbian was locked in from the baseline, forcing Sandgren to go for too much on his shots. On occasion, Djokovic lured the American into the net with short balls, giving him a target for passing shots. Late in the opening set, Djokovic moved forward after a passing shot to hit an overhead, which knocked Sandgren’s racquet from his hand, eliciting a laugh from both players.
Sandgren didn’t play poorly in the pair’s third ATP Head2Head meeting (the Serbian leads 3-0), but he could not find a way to penetrate Djokovic’s defence. Like he did to get broken in the first game of the match, the American ripped a forehand long to give up a break in the opening game of the second set. Sandgren earned three consecutive break points with Djokovic serving at 4-3 0/40, but the top seed hit a sensational forehand drop volley winner from his shoestrings and eventually held his serve.
Djokovic advanced to his 84th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final, only trailing Rafael Nadal (92) and Roger Federer (87) on that leaderboard. He will next play big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff, who is into his first quarter-final at this level.
Struff broke new ground early Tuesday afternoon when the 30-year-old beat 2019 finalist David Goffin 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
“It was a tough one, very close one again. The conditions were very hot again. Yesterday I thought it was a bit worse, the conditions, but David is a very tough player,” said Struff, who narrowed his ATP Head2Head deficit against the Belgian to 2-3. “I had some chances, he had some chances… the last game was really good.”
The German powered past the seventh seed in two hours and nine minutes with a devastating final game of all-out attack. Struff hit 35 winners, including a bludgeoned forehand return on his first match point. It is the World No. 34’s eighth Top 10 victory, with six of those coming since the start of last season. He has won seven of his past 15 matches against the elite group.
”I played some good tennis early on [against Top 10 players] as well, but I lost the matches most of the time,” Struff said. “That gave me a bit of experience how it is to be on court with them… I played good tennis [today] and I’m very happy to get another Top 10 win.”
Djokovic has only lost a set in five of his 20 matches this season. One of those was in the first round of the Australian Open against Struff.
“It will be very nice. I played him at the Australian Open, which was a very good match, I think, a very good match for me,” Struff said. “I would love to play him again.”