Novak Djokovic has turned up. The Serb has awoken. After a topsy-turvy start to the season, both on and off the court, he is now in the semi-finals of the 2022 Mutua Madrid Open after a two-set victory over Hubert Hurkacz (6-3, 6-4) in 1 hour and 20 minutes. It is the seventh time he has reached the round at the Madrid tournament. Djokovic feels at home on the Manolo Santana centre court and Madrid is one of his favourite events. He has shown signs of form all week and on Friday he confirmed it with a resounding victory.
Djokovic came flying out of the blocks to dominate the early exchanges in the match. His superiority, earned through powerful forehands and a solid serve, translated into a one-set lead. Hurkacz darted from one side of the court to the other in an attempt to defend his line, without success. Djokovic was showing glimmers of the player everyone knows he is and although the Pole tried to respond, the Serb served out the first set (6-3).
The second was a much tighter affair. Hurkacz doggedly sought out his opponent’s backhand, hoping he could force him to stumble, but instead it was the world No. 14 who was firing balls into the tramlines and the net. It was a dynamic that led him to lose his serve at 2-2 and go behind in the set. ‘Nole’ managed to consolidate his break to take him a step closer to victory. At 5-3, Hurkacz won one of the longest points in the match to hold his serve, it did nothing to help him though because Djokovic then served out to seal the set and the match.
The two players had previously played on three occasions with Djokovic taking the spoils every time (3-0). The Serb is still lacking fitness and confidence, which gave Hurkacz a minor hope of victory. Also, he reached the quarter-finals after the withdrawal of Andy Murray through sickness. Despite all of this and a poor start to the season, Djokovic is still the No. 1 player in the world and the favourite wherever he wields his racket. The 2022 Mutua Madrid Open has finally given him a chance to string together some matches and arrive at Roland Garros with a chance of doing something big.
The best player in the world came back from a two-month break in Monte Carlo and bowed out to Spaniard Davidovich Fokina in the first round. In Belgrade, Djokovic improved his tennis and his results, although he failed to win the tournament (lost to Rublev in the final). Last week he arrived in Madrid without much game time and lacking some confidence, which seems to be changing significantly as he racks up match time.
One thing that has not changed, and will not despite this defeat, is the rise of Hubert Hurkacz. The Pole has been solid throughout the tournament. On Thursday he toppled Dusan Lajovic to make it eight straight appearances in quarter-finals or third rounds in a Masters 1000. This season he reached the semis in Miami and Dubai in a resounding demonstration of his progress. Respect for Hurkacz on tour is growing. In 2018 he was one of the 100 best tennis players in the world. Two years later broke into the top 30. Today, he is No. 14 in the ATP Rankings.
The Mutua Madrid Open always has the odd surprise in store for the fans, and this twentieth-anniversary edition is no different. Very few gave Djokovic a chance, but the Serb is in the semis, where he awaits the winner of Nadal-Alcaraz.