In a French Open that has been full of upsets, Novak Djokovic looked like he was about to be the latest–and biggest–name to bite the dust in the first week. The opening few rounds saw Top 20 players Alexander Zverev, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Jack Sock, and Nick Kyrgios all fall to unseeded opponents. Djokovic survived, but barely, and showed a ton of weakness in the process.
Djokovic has struggled in recent months, so tennis fans have learned to no longer view him as the unbeatable force that he was, say, back in 2011. Still, it always seems unreal when you compare Djokovic’s current results to what he was doing just a few short years ago. At the 2014 US Open, in this pair’s only other meeting, Djokovic won 61 62 64. It was a thorough domination in which the young Argentinian showed talent and promise, but he was clearly nowhere near Djokovic’s level. That wasn’t the case today.
Schwartzman clearly showed that he has grown as a player since that 2014 match. The young Argentinian might be small, but he can hit huge groundstrokes from the back of the court. It was his massive forehand–and the ability to hit it in a direction that Djokovic couldn’t expect–that really earned him the third set. The real difference between that 2014 match and this one, though, was all on the Djokovic racket.
The match began without too much drama. Djokovic earned an early break, as was expected, but played a very poor game to give it back, and Schwartzman managed two more holds in order to get it to 5-5. A terrible game from Djokovic ensued (four straight unforced errors), and Schwartzman broke for love, following it up with a hold to take the set.
Djokovic played a solid second set, not getting broken and earning a decisive break in the eight game. The third set followed the same track as the second, but in the opposite direction. Each player held through the first seven games. Djokovic then played another very poor game to give the break away. He opened up a 0-40 lead in the following game but couldn’t earn the break, as Schwartzman played some gritty tennis (and hit some big serves) to hold and take the set.
Djokovic found his groove in the fourth set, going after the Schwartzman serve and playing with enough depth to keep Schwartzman from doing any real damage from the baseline. Djokovic dropped a game and seemed a bit distracted when got a time violation followed by a code violation for cursing at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in Serbian, but other than that blip he was in firm control.
Djokovic started the fifth set in much the same way as the fourth. He broke Schwartzman to open the set, and looked firmly in control of the match. Schwartzman appeared as if he would fight back, but he couldn’t earn back the break and then gave away another one with an apparent stomach/midsection injury. The scoreline of this match (57 63 36 61 61) doesn’t adequately show just how much trouble Djokovic was in in this match.
For Djokovic, this is just another match in a very disturbing trend. Exactly one year ago, Djokovic won the French Open to complete the career Grand Slam and hold all four Slams at one. Since then, Djokovic has not won one Slam. In fact, Djokovic has failed to reach the fourth round in two of the last four Slams (he reached the US Open final last year, where he lost to Stan Wawrinka). He’s still alive in this one, but if today is any indication he won’t be around much longer unless he can drastically raise his level. Djokovic has struggled outside of Slams as well, which led to his firing of essentially his entire team and hiring Andre Agassi as a coach starting this tournament. It apparently wasn’t an immediate help in keeping Djokovic focused in the first week of this tournament. We’ll see what they can can do together going forward.
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