Novak Djokovic continues his hunt for a first slam of the year on Saturday, taking on Ernests Gulbis in the second match of the day on Centre Court. Gulbis came into the tournament ranked outside the top 500 after beginning another return from injury. The Latvian used a protected ranking to enter and it has paid off well for him with a trip to round three.
Djokovic has not been tested through two matches, winning by retirement against a clearly injured Martin Klizan before crushing qualifier Adam Pavlasek. The Czech, far more at home on clay, was overwhelmed by Djokovic and won just 5 games from him. It doesn’t mean much for Djokovic’s chances in the grand scheme of things but keeps high on confidence as the winning streak from Eastbourne extends further. “I felt very good today in terms of, you know, my game and where it was from the beginning till the end. So just keeps going in the right direction.” he said.
Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro have had a number of thrillers throughout the year and it seemed certain that another would happen when the draw came out last Friday. Scheduled to play in round three, Gulbis had other ideas about that as he pulled out an excellent performance that reminded people why they once raved about the Latvian. Gulbis has only played 10 matches in 2017 but dominated Victor Estrella in round one before his straight sets win over Del Potro. He hit 59 winners, including 25 aces, in a brutal display of hitting to beat the Argentinian 6-4 6-4 7-6(3). It shows that still Gulbis can compete at the top level if his body lets him, with many an injury hurting his career in the past few years.
Whether Gulbis can bring out that brand of tennis again seems unlikely. What is a bit clearer now though is that Novak Djokovic looks to have lost that invincibility at slams and players will think they have a shot at beating him at their best. Gulbis won’t be overwhelmed by the occasion ahead of him, that’s for sure.
Prediction – Novak Djokovic in straight sets