Rogers Cup Preview Novak Djokovic Leads Dangerous Field Out to Upset No 1

Canadian Open

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Novak Djokovic‘s main hard court rivals’ absence from the 2016 Canadian Open draw with the Rio Olympics looming will be of little comfort to the No.1 seed who was reminded so emphatically by Sam Querrey at Wimbledon that anyone with the right game can take out the top seed if he is less than his very best.

Andy Murray, who beat him in last year’s final, and Roger Federer, who challenged him in 2015’s US Open final and beat him in Cincinnati a few weeks before, would have been likely contenders to inflict another defeat on the Serbian in his least successful hard court stretch of the season- of his 29 ATP 1000 titles, ‘only’ three have come from the US Open lead-in, the 2012, 2011, and 2007 Canadian Open titles, compared to 11 from the Indian Wells-Miami stretch– but Federer and Murray are not the only players capable of hurting the 12 time slam Champion.

In 2016, Djokovic’s main rivals such as Murray and Federer have not been the players who have troubled him most. Other than the loss to Murray in Rome, it is the lower ranked players of the ATP who have beaten the world No.1. Felciano Lopez may have benefitted from Djokovic’s eye infection in Dubai but the Spaniard was nevertheless the last man standing in an ATP match versus the world N0.1. Jiri Vesely  shocked him in Monte Carlo when he was coming in off the back of another Indian Wells-Miami double, and Sam Querrey was few people’s bet to beat him in Wimbledon but managed to close out the win.

Life could get tough for Djokovic in his opening match with just the kind of players he struggles with on fast hard courts in the mix, big serving Gilles Muller or big hitting Dmitry Tursunov, who will face off in the opening round.

Djokovic leads Muller 2-0, but Muller is coming off a recent run to the Hall of Fame finals and has a big serve that could be tough for Djokovic in his first match back since that Wimbledon upset.

Tursunov and Djokovic have not played since the Paris Masters in 2008, and the Russian has not won an ATP match since Acapulco, but if Djokovic is a little rusty after winning just two ATP matches since Roland Garros, then Tursunov, ranked 259 but in the draw on a protected ranking after injuries, with both experience and sound tactical wits in his favor, a dangerous factor for Djokovic considering how hard the Russian can strike the ball, will be a much tougher rival than he looks on paper.

Benoit Paire is seeded to face the top seed in the last sixteen, and has the tricky game to unsettle Djokovic, but the Frenchman has an issue closing out matches and Djokovic would be favored to fight through that one. Paire is also likely to get upset considering his inconsistency so his first round opponent Radek Stepanek, a 2007 Canadian semi-finalist and with match fitness on the clock after qualifying into the main draw, could be the top seed’s third round obstacle.

In the last eight, Djokovic is seeded to meet Tomas Berdych (5). The Czech is capable of pushing the top seed in a close match, but Djokovic leads the head to head 24-2, and has won the last 11 matches.

John Isner (9) in the last eight would be a potentially tougher encounter, and the kind of match which if the world No.1 can win decisively could put the Wimbledon loss well and truly behind the top seed. Isner may not be the same player who beat Djokovic on hard courts at Indian Wells 2012 and in Cincinnati 2013, but he does still have a big weapon in his serve, and he can catch fire in the lead up to the US Open.

Watch Novak Djokovic practicing at the Canadian Open in the video below:

Milos Raonic (4) or Goffin (7) could await Djokovic in the semis. Raonic will be extra motivated to make a statement after his straights sets loss to Murray at Wimbledon, and what better way to do it than to get a win over Djokovic in front of your home crowd. Meanwhile Goffin has shown he can challenge the no.1, leading him 3-0 in the final set of their 2015 Cincinnati last 16 match and taking him to a first set tiebreak in their Miami semi-final earlier this season.

Gael Monfils (10), who just won his first ever ATP 500 title with victory at the Citi Open, could also carry that momentum over into Canada and face Djokovic in the last four. The tenth seed likes fast conditions, and took Djokovic to a third set tiebreaker when they met in Canada in 2014 in the second round. The world No.1 lost his next match to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Sam Querrey is also in Djokovic’s half, and if he can upset David Goffin in round two, Monfils in the last sixteen, and Raonic in the last eight, we might, if Djokovic lives up to his seeding, get a Wimbledon rematch in the world No.1’s very next tournament.

Wawrinka is seeded to meet Djokovic in the final. Wawrinka is 10-9, however in Canada, though a previously poor record at a tournament has never stopped the Swiss making a deep run before and the Swiss is proving more consistent in 2016,

Nishikori is Wawrinka’s seeded opponent for the semi-finals. In Canada, the Japanese is 5-3, making the semis last year, and with the conditions favoring him over the Swiss, he is Djokovic’s likely final opponent.

Nishikori or Wawrinka, either will be a challenge for the world No.1 with both men among just a handful of players to get wins over Djokovic in Slams since the Australian Open 2014 (Wawrinka twice, Nishikori once- Nadal and Querrey are the other two).

Whoever Djokovic faces for the title, and Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, and Nick Kyrgios will all be faces to watch out for in the very open bottom half, the Serbian will not underestimate them. Right now, a rested Djokovic, who has had the family time he was craving after a busy 15 months, has his mind back on the job of winning tennis matches, and he will, after being reminded so brutally at Wimbledon how anyone with the right weapons and strategy can beat him if he is anything less than his best, be very prepared for a tournament he is the number seed to win, and the number one player to upset.

Come back for our Canadian Open final preview next Saturday.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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