Novak Djokovic takes on qualifier Dominik Koepfer as the world no. 1 looks to book a place in the Rome Masters semifinals for the eighth straight year.
Djokovic vs Koepfer is live from Rome on Saturday 19 September, 2.30pm local/1.30pm BST
Four-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic was pushed all the way in an 88-minute first set by Filip Krajinovic on Friday, but maintained his record of having yet to lose a completed match in 2020 with an impressive victory against his in-form compatriot to set up a quarterfinal match with Dominik Koepfer.
Rome Masters 2020: Find out tournament information for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and how to stream ATP Rome matches live
The first qualifier to reach the Rome Masters quarterfinals for 11 years, Koepfer has been paying his dues on the Challenger circuit and broke into the top 100 after reaching the last 16 at the US Open in 2019. He has already beaten one top-10 player this week – could Djokovic be his second victim?
Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.
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Djokovic vs Koepfer: Head-to-head
Novak Djokovic and Dominik Koepfer have never played.
Djokovic vs Koepfer: Preview
After a solid opener at the Rome Masters, where he beat Italian wildcard Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2, Novak Djokovic was always going to have to work harder in a third-round clash with compatriot Filip Krajinovic, and so it proved on Friday.
Krajinovic had won the only previous completed set the two had played, is coached by Djokovic’s old friend Janko Tipsarevic and is in very good form at the moment, and he lived up to all of those reasons to expect a tougher clash for the world no. 1. The first set alone lasted 88 minutes: Djokovic was broken to open and although he immediately broke back, found himself frequently embroiled in lengthy games. From 1-1 to 6-6, Krajinovic saved six break points, two of which were set points, while Djokovic also had to save two break points: Djokovic also trailed 1-4 in the first-set tie-break before coming back and being unable to convert two more set points. Finally, on the fifth, he got over the line and the second set was easier going, Djokovic closing out a 7-6(7), 6-3 victory in two hours and nine minutes.
Djokovic did not play his best; he double-faulted twice in the tie-break, and made 27 unforced errors in the first set alone. But a lot of that had to do with Krajinovic, who really played a great match, and the emotional awkwardness of playing a friend and compatriot.
In many ways, it will be good for Djokovic to have survived a tough test on clay coming into the closing stages of the tournament, and the French Open beyond; especially because he faces a surprise opponent, qualifier Koepfer, instead of any of Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils or Kei Nishikori, all of whom could have met him in the quarterfinals.
Koepfer and fellow qualifier Lorenzo Musetti had other plans. Koepfer eliminated Monfils, Musetti ousted Wawrinka and Nishikori, and then Koepfer defeated Musetti – who had a shoulder injury – 6-4, 6-0 to become the first qualifier in 11 years to make the Rome quarterfinals.
A former college player, Koepfer made his ATP Tour main-draw debut in 2017 and won his first Challenger Tour title on grass in Ilkley in 2019, but where he first made his name was with an improbable run to the fourth round of the US Open later the same year, where he qualified for the main draw and beat Jaume Munar, Reilly Opelka and Nikoloz Basilashvili before losing to Daniil Medvedev. He broke into the top 100 as a result, but only had two ATP Tour-level wins to his name in 2020 before this week.
Stretched to three sets by all three players he faced in qualifying, Koepfer actually saved match point in the first round against Alex de Minaur before going on to beat Monfils and Musetti in straight sets. The victory against Monfils was his first over a top-10 player on his second attempt.
Will Djokovic be his second top-10 victim this week? Unlikely. The German is likely to be a name we hear in the future, and an unknown opponent is always dangerous (although Djokovic was spotted checking out his match against Musetti). But Djokovic last lost a match to a player ranked outside the top 50 at the 2018 French Open. He also has an exceptional record against left-handers (if you exclude Nadal, he is 93-12 against them). Anything other than a straight-sets win for Djokovic would be a shock.