21-time Major champion Novak Djokovic shrugged off a wrist injury to seize the 89th title of his career with a straight-sets victory against Marin Cilic in Tel Aviv last night, and now the 35-year-old ventures to Astana with US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev among the top seeds this week. How will the Serb fare in a draw featuring the new world no. 1 and more?
Novak notches another title, this time at 250 level
Djokovic bt. Cilic 6-3, 6-4 to win ATP 250 event in Tel Aviv, Israel
In his first singles tournament back since the aforementioned 21st Major, the Serbian secured another victory over familiar foe Cilic — now holding a 19-2 winning record dating back to their first meeting in Dubai 2008 just a few months after Novak won his first Slam title in Australia.
In the months since being deported from the Australian Open at the start of the year, the former world no. 1 has repeatedly made it clear during interviews he will not take the COVID vaccine, and is prepared to continue forfeiting playing multiple Slam tournaments if needs be.
The 35-year-old, runner-up at Flushing Meadows last year, was not allowed US entry to feature at this year’s final Major tournament. Daniil Medvedev, who pipped him to the title 13 months ago, and history-maker Carlos Alcaraz are the top two seeds in Kazakhstan this week.
US Open quarter-finalist Jannik Sinner, seeded sixth, withdrew through injury after sustaining an injury against Holger Rune in Sofia at the weekend. Cilic slots into the Italian’s spot as the 9th seed, and could face Djokovic later this week should they both win their opening two matches.
How the draw could set up Cilic-Djokovic again
Cilic vs. Oscar Otte — winner plays Maxime Cressy or Karen Khachanov for a QF berth
Cristian Garin vs. Djokovic — winner plays Botic van de Zandschulp in R2, QF awaits the victor
Meanwhile Felix Auger-Aliassime’s inconsistent results this season have continued — losing 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut as the Canadian  marks the first seed to fall.
The 22-year-old, Rotterdam champion in mid-February, now holds a 42-24 win-loss record on the year but has suffered a string of surprising first-round tournament defeats – including at Indian Wells and Miami in March, April’s Monte Carlo and Wimbledon this past summer.
What about Medvedev?
In keeping with the topsy-turvy theme, Daniil Medvedev enters the Astana Open hopeful that he can string a series of victories together after enduring a rough few months himself. Spain’s experienced Albert Ramos-Vinolas, world no. 40, awaits him first in R1 on Tuesday afternoon.
The 26-year-old Russian was bested by an inspired Nick Kyrgios display in R4 at this year’s US Open, ending his title defence in four sets. Little more than a fortnight later, he lost in three sets against a resurgent Stan Wawrinka in Metz and angrily gesticulated towards the partisan crowd.
It’s easy to view a viral clip in isolation and subsequently self-diagnose, jumping to conclusions, but it’s no secret Medvedev hasn’t looked particularly happy on court for a while now – dating back to his five-set defeat by Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final in late January.
Winner of one ATP title this year – Los Cabos in August – he’ll be itching to get back to some more favourable form as the season draws to a close. Unlike in-form Luidmila Samsonova, who used the Wimbledon ban as a training block, it appears Daniil could do with some extended rest.
Carlos wants to pick up where he left off
Although Rune withdrew with a niggling injury too after a strenuous week in Sofia, ultimately finishing runner-up to maiden ATP titlist Marc-Andrea Huesler, Carlos Alcaraz faces another banana skin opponent in R1 – David Goffin on Tuesday morning.
Goffin, ranked world no. 66, would – and should – be much higher had the Wimbledon ranking points instead been reinstated after a quarterfinal run in south London this summer.
The 31-year-old, a former top 10 player and four times a Major quarterfinalist, relinquished a leading position in qualifying against Italian teenager Luca Nardi with two tough tiebreaks but has emerged as a lucky loser and will be enthused to test his mettle against the new world no. 1.
Alcaraz played two Davis Cup singles matches after last month’s superb US Open triumph, losing in three sets to Auger-Aliassime before besting south Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon in straight-sets. It’ll be interesting, seeing how he manages pressure and expectation that comes with the territory.
Picture source: Getty Images