Novak Djokovic is competing in Tokyo for the first time. The fans here are getting to see why he is the top player in the ATP Rankings with his performances so far this week at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.
Djokovic defeated fifth seed Lucas Pouille 6-1, 6-2 on Friday in 50 minutes to reach the semi-finals as he continues to pursue his fourth tour-level title of the season. The top seed is two victories away from earning his 10th trophy on a tournament main draw debut.
“It was definitely one of the best matches I’ve played this year. Best one of this week [and it] came at the right time. I thought Lucas was playing really well the first couple of matches in this tournament,” Djokovic said. “I saw him play a couple of days ago against Nishioka and he was playing really well. I took away the time from him. I served well, served many aces, returned a lot of his serves back and just used every opportunity to come in. Just overall, a really flawless performance.”
The 32-year-old has now made at least the semi-finals in six of his past seven tournaments, and in eight of his 12 events this season. Djokovic is making a push to finish as year-end World No. 1 for the sixth time, which would tie the mark held by his idol, Pete Sampras.
Djokovic was devastating on return against the Frenchman, winning 61 per cent of his return points, including a massive 77 per cent win-rate on second-serve returns. Pouille landed 64 per cent of his first serves, but he was unable to earn many short balls or free points as the Serbian consistently got himself back to neutral in rallies quickly.
The top seed has alleviated any concerns about his shoulder, which forced him to retire during his fourth-round match at the US Open against Stan Wawrinka. Djokovic has not dropped a set in Tokyo, and he has broken serve 12 times in three matches.
Djokovic will next face third seed David Goffin or 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung. He has won six of his seven FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Goffin, the 2017 Tokyo champion, and he has split his two matches against Chung. Djokovic ousted the South Korean at the 2016 Australian Open, falling to Chung in Melbourne two years later.
“[Chung has] struggled with injury and is building his [ATP] Ranking. He’s a great guy, a hard worker, he’s got a very solid game, very strong legs, moves very well, quick,” Djokovic said. “Goffin on the other hand is someone that is in form. Played the finals in Cincinnati and has been coming closer and closer to Top 15, Top 10 of the world. So I’m looking forward to a great challenge tomorrow.”