(Photo credit: Marianne Bevis)
Wimbledon and Cincinnati champion Novak Djokovic will begin his quest for a third US Open title when he takes on Marton Fucsovics of Hungary. Djokovic has been one of the most consistent performers in New York over the past few years, he hasn’t lost before the semifinals since 2006, but may be slightly disappointed by his return of only two titles. Fucsovics, meanwhile, has enjoyed the best season of his career but will be aware of the size of the challenge awaiting him. Who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between the pair, but it is rather a mismatch in experience. Djokovic has won 70 titles in his career, including 13 Slams, and recently completed the set of Masters 1000 titles in Cincinnati. He has a career record of 816-173 and has won 62 matches at the US Open. That is 62 more than Fucsovics who has lost in the first round on his previous two visits to Flushing Meadows. But he does have won title to his name after winning the Geneva Open in May.
Last time out
Djokovic confirmed his return to the top of the tennis world with his triumph at Wimbledon, outlasting Nadal 6-4 3-6 7-6 3-6 10-8 in the last four before dismantling a weary Kevin Anderson in the final. He never got going in Toronto where he lost in the third round to Stefanos Tsitsipas. But in Cincinnati, though he had to grit his way through some of his matches, he showed admirable fighting spirit throughout and flashes of his best tennis in dismissing Federer 6-4 6-4 in the final.
Fucsovics, currently at a career-high ranking of world #40, has enjoyed a season to remember. But the highlights were his run to the fourth round in Melbourne and winning the title in Geneva, and his form has tapered off since then. He lost to Benneteau in the first round at Wimbledon, but did push Stan Wawrinka hard in Toronto, losing 10-12 in a final set tiebreak. He lost to Wawrinka again in Cincinnati, in straight sets, before crashing out in the first round in Winston-Salem.
How do they match up?
Central to Djokovic’s considerable success over the years has been his ability to maintain his court position even under heavy pressure and his excellent returning skills. Not only is Djokovic extremely difficult to ace, he is also able to impose himself on second serve returns and Fucsovics will need to have the best serving day of his life to stand a chance of advancing. But Djokovic is also capable of going on the attack when the situation calls for it.
Both his forehand and backhand are reliably accurate and penetrating which allows Djokovic to stretch opponents without missing often. He also defends brilliantly in the corners, particularly on the backhand side. The best way for Fucsovics to counter Djokovic’s quality is to trust in himself to hit big and to keep doing that throughout. It is a risky strategy, but the only one that leaves him with a path to victory, though it is a narrow one, as unforced errors will need to be kept to a minimum.
It is hard to see what Fucsovics' can bring to the match court to unsettle Djokovic. The Hungarian has some power, but far less than players Djokovic has beaten in the past. He also doesn’t have the defensive skills to withstand Djokovic’s attacks or the variety to deny the sixth seed rhythm. It may take Djokovic a while to find his groove in this match, but when he does, expect it to end as a meaningful contest. Djokovic in straight sets.