On Wednesday in Rome, Novak Djokovic put the past behind him as best he could in his opening-round victory over Italy’s Salvatore Caruso. Statistically speaking, Djokovic is no longer undefeated this season, but don’t expect his form, or belief, to suffer much.
"Obviously it ended the way it ended, but officially it's the first loss of the year," Djokovic said. "That's fine. I don't really pay attention to that anymore. The important thing is that the confidence is still there.”
The only player to defeat Djokovic in a completed—albeit unsanctioned and ill-advised—match in 2020? His Friday opponent, Filip Krajinovic, who defeated Djokovic in Belgrade during the Adria Tour. Aside from a lackluster straight-set loss to David Goffin in the US Open third round, the late-blooming 28-year-old has been in great form all year. His most notable victory, a 6-2, 6-1 thumping of eventual US Open champion Dominic Thiem at the New York-held Western & Southern Open.
Without a doubt, Krajinovic is one of the world’s most naturally-gifted players. Much like his compatriot, he has no weakness from the ground—both his forehand and backhand are struck with equal cleanliness and precision.
Krajinovic has mastered a play from Djokovic’s textbook, one that he will use early and often against the world No. 1’s impenetrable defense.
Nobody, except Rafa Nadal on clay, can match Djokovic shot for shot from the baseline. The drop shot is not just a good play, it’s completely necessary. If Djokovic has a weakness (which he doesn’t really) it’s his overhead smash. Might as well bring him forward and test his net game, because the alternative will surely result in a loss.
One of the biggest differences between the two players is that Djokovic will always try and reach every shot, while Krajinovic is known to save his energy from time to time.
According to the oddsmakers, Djokovic is a massive (-500) favorite. Djokovic will almost surely win, but depending on the day, Krajinovic can beat anyone across the net. Don’t expect an easy day at the office for the four-time champion, who looks to improve to 28-1 on the ATP tour in 2020.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic in three sets