Erste Bank Open: Tsitsipas and Sinner join youthful line-up in Vienna’s second round
Djokovic beats Coric to close on year-end No1 - victory in Vienna guarantees it
The biggest two names in Vienna this week, world No1 Novak Djokovic, and No3 and defending champion Dominic Thiem, were both tested in their openers.
Both faced a couple of breaks, but both came through in straights in a little under two hours, each of them adjusting to indoor hard-court conditions for the first time since the clay of Roland Garros.
By Wednesday, though, the two favourites had taken up their places in the second round with just one other seed, No5 Andrey Rublev, and with four places left among the last 16, only two more seeds were still alive: young stars Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The remaining two places would be contested by a quartet of unseeded men.
Felix Auger-Aliassime, age just 20 and ranked 21, played compatriot Vasek Pospisil, while the 27-ranked 21-year-old Caspar Ruud played one of the fastest rising youngsters on the tour, 19-year-old Jannik Sinner.
On Centre Court, Medvedev made quick work of lucky loser Jason Jung—who was in the draw courtesy of Kei Nishikori’s withdrawal. The Russian, who has already qualified for the ATP Finals, advanced 6-3, 6-1, in little more than an hour, and will next play Pospisil.
However, No3 seed Tsitsipas found Jan Lennard Struff a real handful, as many have before him. The big German, ranked 34, fended off break points at the start of the match, and then had Tsitsipas in trouble in the 10th game, where the Greek had to save three set points. He did so with some bold and dazzling line-painting rallies, 5-5.
Yet Struff was striking clean and hard, and attacking the net with real success. Come the tie-break, he took the lead, 4-2 and sealed the set, 7-6(3).
On the #NextGen court at almost the same moment, Sinner was also taking control of the first-set tie-break, having also shared unconverted break points with Ruud. The teenager took the set, 7-6(2), and then broke straight away, 3-0. Ruud replied with a break back, but it did not last: The Norwegian was broken again, and Sinner served out the win, 6-3.
The Italian will again take on a young gun for the first time, though 23-year-old Rublev has been one of the stand-out players of this truncated 2020, with four titles and 35 match-wins. It could be a cracker.
What of Tsitsipas, though? He continued nip and tuck with Struff through seven games, but Tsitsipas finally got a chance, one break point in the eighth, and the German smashed a volley into the net. The Greek served it out, 6-3: It would take a decider, as had most of their previous matches.
A pause in play in the third game, when Tsitsipas broke a shoe-lace, interrupted the flow, and he broke to take a lead that Struff could not recover. The Greek was now almost flawless on serve, and had dropped only three points on serve as he stepped to the line. He would not drop another as he served out to love, 6-4, to set a meeting against fellow single-hander, Grigor Dimitrov.
Later on Centre Court, the former Vienna champion Djokovic set about sealing the end-of-year No1 ranking for a record-equalling sixth time: victory over 23-year-old Borna Coric would as good as seal the deal with the Serb’s 39th win of the year.
And while Coric had achieved notable victories against top players in the past, he had not beaten Djokovic in three previous meetings, nor even won a set. That said, on the clay of Monte-Carlo last year, the young Croat pressed him very close, and in Vienna, he was the first to work break point at 4-4. But he could not convert, and found himself serving to save the first set.
He did, and worked another break chance, but it headed to a tense tie-break, where the Croat had four more points for the set, but finally Djokovic served on his own set point, and drew a Coric error, 7-6(11).
It had taken an hour and a quarter, but facing an early break in the second set, Coric was always fighting uphill, and Djokovic broke again for a truly significant Round 2 win, 6-3.
It is a win that virtually guarantees the year-end No1. Only one man in one scenario could deny him, and that is Rafael Nadal, who would not only have to win next week’s Paris Masters but take a wild card into the 250 in Sofia—and win it—just days before the ATP Finals. It is a highly unlikely scenario. And in any case, if Djokovic goes on to win the Vienna title, he will affirm the No1 at the end of 2020.
London qualification thus far
1 Novak Djokovic
2 Rafael Nadal
3 Dominic Thiem
[Federer absent following knee surgery]
4 Stefanos Tsitsipas
5 Daniil Medvedev
6 Alexander Zverev
Next to qualify
7 Andrey Rublev
8 Diego Schwartzman [not playing this week]
9 Matteo Berrettini [not playing this week]
[Gael Monfils closed season with injury]
[Shapovalov w’drawn from Paris Masters]
10 Bautista Agut [not playing this week]
11 David Goffin [not playing this week]
12 Pablo Carreno Busta
[Fabio Fognini w’drawn from Paris Masters]
13 Karen Khachanov [lost R1 Vienna]
14 Stan Wawrinka [lost R1 Vienna]
15 Grigor Dimitrov