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Novak Djokovic defeated Grigor Dimitrov (6/3 4/6 6/1) in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on May 14, Sunday.

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Since his unbelievable weeks in Australia, the world number one hasn’t dazzled the tennis world. Held back by his leg injury, Novak Djokovic has only participated in four tournaments since February. His disappointing results in Bosnia and in Monte-Carlo leave a doubt about his form.

Novak Djokovic was too strong

The two players took time to get into the game. Novak Djokovic played an unconvincing first game: a double fault and big mistakes. He lost his serve. Grigor Dimitrov didn’t keep his advantage. A string of unforced errors gave the break back: 1/1. The third game wasn’t easier than the previous one for Novak Djokovic. He saved three break points to win his game of serve for the first time. Points were made of long rallies from the back of the court. Each of the players imprinted power and depth to their strikes. While Novak Djokovic took the initiative, Grigor Dimitrov defended. The Serbian made his opponent crack; he got break points. He converted the first one thanks to an astonishing backhand passing shot: 3/1. The following game was a demonstration from Novak Djokovic: string of winners and backhand accelerations. Grigor Dimitrov fought back with a constructed-forward game: 4/2. The end of the set was hard on Grigor Dimitrov. He saved four set points on his serve – but it only gave him more time. Novak Djokovic clinched the first set with an ace: 6/3.

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After a slow start to the match, both players played a sleek tennis. Novak Djokovic took the lead of the set thanks to the precision of his strikes. Grigor Dimitrov dealt with the attacks of his opponent. The latter’s numerous unforced errors prevented him to take advantage of his strokes of genius. To have a chance in the second set, he’ll have to reinvent himself.

Grigor Dimitrov fought back

Grigor Dimitrov played a convincing first game. He played with the limits of the court. Novak Djokovic forced his opponent to step back with the volume of his forehands while the Bulgarian fought back with his power. The world number one saved a break point with a big first serve: 1/1. Grigor Dimitrov took the ball early to take time away from his opponent. A game made of a bad bounce, a great return and unforced errors gave the break to Novak Djokovic. He led 3/1 in the second set. The Serbian used his defensive position to counterattack on the perfect ball. Grigor Dimitrov seemed unable to rival his opponent’s consistency and game intelligence. The latter’s serve quality allowed him to keep up the score: 3/2. The two players played a few meters behind their baseline; they compensated with depth and power: 4/3. When Novak Djokovic seemed very close to victory, a mediocre game boosted his opponent: a dazzling forehand passing followed by unforced errors enabled Grigor Dimitrov to break. He took the lead of the second set with a love game: 5/4. Freer, the latter played with the lines. A backhand down the line hit out of the court gave the latter a set point. Novak Djokovic made another fault after a bad bounce – that gave the set away to Grigor Dimitrov: 6/4.

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The second set was full of surprises. While Novak Djokovic seemed out of Grigor Dimitrov’s reach, the latter didn’t give up. His risk-taking was rewarded in the last games. His balls that barely touched the lines made Novak Djokovic doubt. He had a downturn in performance that made the task easier for his opponent.

A one-way deciding set

The third set didn’t continue with the same dynamic. Grigor Dimitrov’s trivial faults started again. After a long rally from the back of the court, Novak Djokovic got a break point; that he converted thanks a third double fault from his opponent. The Serb confirmed his advantage: 2/0. Grigor Dimitrov errors kept him under pressure. He won his games of serve thanks to the quality of his first balls. Novak Djokovic won his serve without any resistance from the other side of the net. His consistency got the better of his opponent: 3/1. Grigor Dimitrov alternated between strokes of genius and big errors. A too long backhand down the line gave the double break to Novak Djokovic: 4/1. The latter increased his lead: 5/1. The Bulgarian, disillusioned, kept on running after the clean strikes of the world number one. A sloppy drop shot grave match points to Novak Djokovic. The third one was the right one. Grigor Dimitrov lost: 3/6 6/4 1/6.

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The deciding set confirmed the first one. The second set was only an enchanted interlude for the former world number three. His numerous unforced errors prevented him from having a real chance in this encounter. As usual, his class took over his efficiency. His beautiful one-handed backhands down the line weren’t enough to counterbalance his lack of initiative. As for Novak Djokovic, his consistency and his precision enabled him to win. Except a downturn in performance that costed him the second set, the world number one dominated the encounter. His game reading, his moments of annoyance and his backhand accelerations pleased the Italian crowd.  

Novak Djokovic against Grigor Dimitrov : best shots

As the winner of last year, Novak Djokovic will try to defend his title. Points aren’t his biggest concern at the moment: Carlos Alcaraz’ participation in Rome means that he’ll lose the number one spot. Nevertheless, defending his title would give him a big confidence boost for Roland Garros.

Marnie Abbou

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