The top seed had a tougher than expected time reaching the last eight. After dismissing Germany’s Florian Mayer in his second round match, he was pushed to three sets on Thursday by world number 66 Denis Istomin. The Uzbek served brilliantly in the opening set, landing 75% of his first deliveries in court and winning 100% of points on his second serve. Moreover, he took advantage of a sluggish Djokovic serving performance to break the Australian Open champion twice and take the first set 6-2.
Unsurprisingly, the Serb’s response was impressive. He raised his level at the beginning of the second set, breaking for 3-2 and holding on to his advantage to win it 6-4. Another early break in the third set proved that the momentum had shifted decisively, and even though Istomin broke back, Djokovic held firm to register a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph in two hours and seven minutes.
Gasquet had to battle for almost as long against Kei Nishikori. The Frenchman was blown away by the ninth seed in the opening set, dropping serve three times to lose it 6-1. His timing seemingly off, Gasquet looked set for a torrid evening at the hands of one of the speediest, most consistent counterpunchers in the game.
Like Djokovic, however, Gasquet remained calm and gradually asserted his authority. His sublime one-handed backhand clicked into gear, and he broke twice in the second set – while saving all three break points against him – to take it 6-3. Although Gasquet’s first serve percentage dropped to 42% in the decider, Nishikori failed to take advantage, and the Japanese surrendered another break to go down 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic and Gasquet have played each other eight times, and the world number one has won seven of those meetings. In fact, Djokovic hasn’t lost a set to Gasquet since 2007: in recent years, he has simply been too consistent, too dogged and too energetic for the world number nine.
While Gasquet is undoubtedly one of the most naturally gifted players on tour, with a game that leaves the purists salivating, he often seems at a loss for how to play Djokovic. The Serb is a supreme defender, so Gasquet’s attempts to go for winners often come to naught. Djokovic’s peerless speed and flexibility also mean that he can cope easily with Gasquet’s array of slices and spins.
He may have been far from his best against Istomin, but Djokovic rarely plays two mediocre matches in a row. We can expect him to step it up against Gasquet and reach the semi-finals with a comfortable straight sets victory.