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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, October 27, 2020

 
Novak Djokovic

In his first match since the French Open final, Novak Djokovic conquered compatriot Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-3, moving to within one win of securing a record-tying sixth season-ending No. 1.

Photo credit: Christopher Levy

The blue hard court isn't sprouting a mountain range, but Novak Djokovic continued climbing a precious peak in his Vienna return today.

In an all-Serbian showdown, Djokovic denied a set point out-dueling buddy Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-3 in his first Vienna match since he stopped Stan Wawrinka to take the 2007 Erste Bank Open title.

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In his first match since falling to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, Djokovic moved to within one win of ascending to a rare summit. If Djokovic defeats Borna Coric in the round of 16 he will secure a record-tying sixth season-ending No. 1 spot matching his tennis idol, Pete Sampras, for most years as year-end world No. 1.

While Sampras did it six straight years from 1993 to 1998, Djokovic's six pack is a remarkable run given he's played in the era of 20-time Grand Slam champions Roger Federer and Nadal. Should Djokovic top Coric, the player he's said reminds him of a younger version of himself, the 33-year-old Serbian will match Nadal's mark as the oldest ATP year-end No. 1.




The Australian Open champion's return today was both compelling and challenging featuring some brilliant shot-making from both Serbians. Krajinovic served for the first set at 5-4 and held a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but a savvy Djokovic was one-shot sharper on pivotal points.

The top seed hit eight aces and saved three of five break points raising his 2020 record to 38-2 with lone losses coming to Nadal in Paris and on a default in the US Open fourth round when Djokovic was bounced from Flushing Meadows after accidentally hitting a linesperson with a ball. 

Showing signs of rust in the opening game, Djokovic knocked a backhand into net to face break point. Attacking behind a forehand down the line, Djokovic bunted a forehand drop volley to deny it.

The top seed saved a second break point with a banging serve wide working through a nine-minute hold to start. Djokovic jolted an ace down the T holding at love for 2-1.

Showing fine forward movement, Djokovic again attacked behind a forehand and knifed a backhand volley into the opposite corner breaking for 3-1.

Tennis Express

Familiarity made for some fantastic exchanges. The pair are friends and sometime practice partners. Krajinovic knows Djokovic’s tendencies and exploited a couple of loose forehands breaking back in the fifth game to spark a four-game surge.

Thirty-seven minutes into the match, Krajinovic used one of Djokovic’s preferred weapons against him drawing the older Serbian forward with a drop shot then spinning a backhand pass by him earning his second straight break in the seventh game.

A stubborn Krajinovic dug in denying a pair of break points holding for his fifth straight game and a 5-3 lead.

Serving for the set at 15-30, Krajinovic tightened up.

Sliding a sharp serve out wide, Krajinovic had the open court but badly shanked a swing volley well wide drawing a gasp from some in the crowd. Djokovic immediately pounced driving a deep return to provoke a second straight forehand error as he broke back for 5-5.

The top seed curled his fourth ace out wide edging ahead after 57 minutes.

The second point of tiebreaker took the quality up another dizzying level as Krajinovic bunted a skidding drop volley. Djokovic nudged a sliding reply into corner and held his ground as Krajinovic clocked a clean running tweener the world No. 1 blocked a volley into the open court for a 2-1 lead.



The world No. 30 threw down a smash to earn set point at 6-5. In a moment that may give Krajinovic nightmares his flat forehand danced on the top of the tape for a moment for plopping on his side of the court negating set point. The ensuing point will definitely haunt Krajinovic as he was in prime position for an overhead only to badly bungle the smash into the middle of the net. That horrific miscue gave Djokovic set point and he seized it when Krajinovic scattered a forehand wide.

Dialed in on his backhand return, Djokovic drilled his two-hander right back at his opponent’s feet drawing a netted reply to break for a 2-1 second-set lead.

The second set, though in Djokovic’s hands from the early stages, still supplied some shot-making fireworks from both Serbians. Djokovic dipped a tremendous running backhand pass at his opponent’s feet, but the right-handed Krajinovic conjured a magical half-volley drop volley winner struck solely with racquet in left hand. That special shot prompted applause and a bow from Djokovic to his buddy.



Occasionally playing his backhand from the center of the court to Krajinovic’s forehand, Djokovic opened opportunities for his forehand. Rapping a diagonal forehand winner brought him to match point in the ninth game. Krajinovic saved it but sailed a forehand down the line on the second match point as Djokovic closed a gritty battle between compatriots in one hour, 58 minutes.

Earlier, Grigor Dimitrov delivered dynamic all-court tennis using his variety to defuse Karen Khachanov 7-6(6), 6-3 in the first meeting between the pair. Dimitrov drilled five aces and surrendered just seven points on first serve to reach the round of 16 where he will play either third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas or German's Jan-Lennard Struff next.


 

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