Even the World No. 1 has matches where he tips his hat and says ‘too good’.
In Saturday’s semi-final encounter at the Western & Southern Open against Daniil Medvedev, that’s exactly what happened for Novak Djokovic. Following a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 defeat to the Russian, the top seed acknowledged that Medvedev proved to be untouchable as the match progressed.
Djokovic was at his ruthless best in the first set, but his opponent varied his tactics as proceedings moved to the second and third. The most glaring change: a monster second serve that left the Serbian without any answers.
“I thought I played really good match,” said Djokovic. “Maybe in the third set when I was broken at 1-all I could have done a little bit better, but when someone serves a 128 miles-per-hour second serve and doesn’t make too many doubles faults and goes for every shot, you just have to put your hat down and congratulate him.
“He played amazing tennis from 4-3 in the second set. Not much that I could really do. I tried to return his serve. And when I had my racquet on the ball I was returning his serves, but you can’t really predict someone or prepare yourself for someone serving that big a second serve consistently. He definitely has a lot of confidence. When you have so much confidence, then obviously you allow yourself to go for these kind of shots. I congratulate him. He deserved to win the match.”
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Djokovic heaped praise on Medvedev following the match, admitting the Russian has greatly improved his game since their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting of the year at the Australian Open. Since then, Medvedev has triumphed on two occasions, having also prevailed at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
On Saturday, it was the mid-match adjustment that made the difference for Medvedev. Djokovic knows very well that problem solving is a key component to maturity on the court and developing a successful game. He believes the 23-year-old has made great strides to those ends.
“He’s working his way to the Top 5 [in the ATP Ranking]. He’s definitely one of the best players in the world… He certainly improved since Australian Open this year. His forehand is better. His movement is better. I mean, his serve was always big. I did not experience this too many times in my career that someone goes so big on second serves and just serves two first serves basically for an extended period of time.
“That’s one of those things where you just take your chances. I don’t think I can kind of say that he improved his second serve. He was serving two first serves from one point of the match til the end of the match. But before that, when I could take my chance on the second serve, I was doing pretty well. But there is certainly an evolution in his game and improvement. He’s going in the right direction and it’s why he’s doing so well.”
Djokovic will next appear at the US Open, where he is bidding for a 17th Grand Slam title. The three-time champion enters Flushing Meadows with just four matches played during the North American hard-court swing, but he believes there is no cause for concern.
Just one month removed from lifting the Wimbledon trophy, Djokovic is in top form and remains one of the favourites to lift the trophy in New York.
“I see mostly positives really in my game. Today I did lose a tennis match, but I didn’t do too much wrong. I lost to a player that was playing amazing, so I’ll take that and I’ll move forward to New York and have a good practice week.
“Then, of course, get myself ready for the Open. I love playing in those conditions there on centre court. I’m going to fight for a title as everyone else does, and I like my chances. I feel good and I look forward to it.”