Djokovic defeats Cuevas 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to reach French Open 3rd round
It is a bit surprising that this was their first tour-level meeting given that they are just one year apart and turned pro around the same time. Novak Djokovic is attempting a feat not yet achieved on the ATP Tour – win each major at least twice. The thirty-four-year-old from Serbia raised the coupe de mousquetaires in 2016 defeating Andy Murray in four sets and reached three other finals (2012, 2014, 2015). The reigning Australian Open champion has had a standout season with 20 wins to just three losses including his second title of the year on the dirt in Belgrade.
Although currently ranked #92, Pablo Cuevas is a dangerous opponent in any round, having reached a career-high ranking of #19 in 2016. The thirty-five-year-old Uruguayan has six titles all on clay and earlier this month came thru qualies to reach the semis at the Geneva Open.
Djokovic served first, holding at love with an ace up the tee. Cuevas struck his first ace and held to 15 for 1-1 with a well-placed serve and an inside-in forehand winner.
While both were striking the ball from the start with authority, Djokovic fell behind 15-40 in his next service game as Cuevas dictated play from inside the baseline. Djokovic saved a break point with an ace down the middle but dumped serve when he netted a forehand and Cuevas failed to consolidate the break following three unforced errors.
Back on serve at 2-2, Djokovic held easily to 15 with a deft backhand drop shot on game point. Cuevas struggled but managed to hold for 3-3 behind well-struck forehands and serves. Djokovic opened the 7th game with a huge serve down the middle and held at love with another.
Cuevas, serving with new balls, missed 5/8 first serves and hit two backhand winners to save break points but succumbed on the third when his opponent ripped a forehand down the line.
The 18-time grand slam champion served for the set up 5-3 and though he faced triple break point following two forehand errors, pulled out two more aces to clinch it 6-3. It was a hard-fought, well-played opening set as each player committed slightly more than a handful of unforced errors.
Cuevas served first in the second and immediately came under pressure as he continued to miss on his first serve. Djokovic continued to effectively employ the drop shot, earning a break point which he converted when Cuevas whiffed an overhead.
Djokovic consolidated the break, holding to 15 with his 5th ace for 2-0. Cuevas returned the favor, holding to 15 with his 2nd ace for 1-2. Djokovic began serving better, making 4/5 first serves as he held to 15 for 3-1.
Cuevas watched the set slip away as he committed four consecutive unforced errors to drop serve. Djokovic held at love and consolidated the break for a commanding 5-1 lead with his 6th ace and a spectacular forehand drop volley on game point.
Cuevas did well to disrupt his opponent’s momentum, hitting two winners off the ground and a
sweet forehand drop shot on game point for 2-5. Djokovic missed 4/5 first serves including a double fault but secured the set 6-2 when Cuevas missed the forehand return.
Cuevas served first in the third and though he opened with a fantastic inside-out forehand volley, dropped serve behind a double fault and a netted backhand. Djokovic struggled mightily to consolidate the break as Cuevas continued to unleash off the ground yet managed to hold for 2-0 despite facing five deuce and two break points.
Cuevas opened the third game with an inside-in forehand and closed it with a phenomenal crosscourt backhand for 1-2. Djokovic once again struggled to hold as his opponent refused to yield. The world #1 served an ace, a double fault, and faced five deuce and two break points yet managed to hold after Cuevas mishit the backhand return.
Cuevas, resilient and undeterred, believed he had the tools to threaten the top seed as he extracted three consecutive unforced errors and held at love with an ace out wide.
Djokovic, determined to win in straights, amped up the serve and held to 30 for 4-2 with a colossal serve down the middle. Cuevas returned the favor, holding to 30 for 3-4 with a double fault and his 4th ace.
Nearing the finish line, Djokovic continued to serve well, striking another ace and a huge one out wide on game point for 5-3. Cuevas was determined to hold and force his opponent to serve it out and with well-struck groundstrokes, spot serving, and another ace, he did.
Novak Djokovic opened the 10th game with an extraordinary backhand overhead smash and won the set and match with his 10th ace. Though he defeated his opponent in straight sets in a little over two hours, it was anything but straightforward.
While Djokovic hit five more aces (10/5) he donated 3 double faults. They had similar numbers on winners/unforced: Djokovic tallied 32/22 while Cuevas produced 31/26. Both had good first serve percentages – Djokovic 68%, Cuevas 64% as well as the percentage of points won on first serve – Djokovic 75%, Cuevas 64%.
Djokovic excelled at break points converted winning 5/8 while Cuevas struggled to capitalize on the 9 he created, winning just one. Djokovic also surpassed his opponent on the most critical stat – second serve points won, winning 57% to his opponent’s 41%.
In the end, the world #1 was too good when it really mattered – break points converted – and that is why the four-time Roland Garros finalist and 2016 champion is thru to the third round at the French Open.