© Hiroshi Sato

Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Go Soeda on Wednesday in Tokyo.

Djokovic Denies Home Hope Soeda In Tokyo

Solid service performance helps Serbian star to victory

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic knew on Wednesday he would face an inspired Go Soeda, who was playing in front of his home crowd at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, and that’s exactly what the top seed got.

But Djokovic persevered, defeating Soeda, a wild card, 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 35 minutes to advance to the quarter-finals. It is the ninth time the Serbian has made at least the last eight from 12 tournaments this season.

"[He] made me work for my win today and the atmosphere was really good on the court," Djokovic said. "I enjoyed it."

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The Japanese player, who was 0-12 in Tokyo main draws before defeating German Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round, showed plenty of resiliency. Djokovic broke for a 6-3, 5-3 lead with a big forehand return down the middle that Soeda could not handle.

But Soeda did not let his shoulders slump. Instead, the 35-year-old broke back by attacking the Serbian’s forehand. And in the next game, when Djokovic earned three match points, the World No. 133 dismissed them with a forehand volley, an unreturned serve and an overhead winner, respectively.

"I think I played a pretty good tennis match. From the baseline, I was solid, aggressive when I needed to be and taking the ball early. I served very well until that game when I was serving for the match at 5-3. I made some double faults, I missed all my first serves, so I didn't serve that well that game, allowing him to break back and come back to the match," Djokovic said. "But there were not too many negatives today, because I had chances constantly. I had match points at 5-4, but he just came up with some very good shots and fought hard and that's why we give him credit. But from my side, I'm really pleased."

Djokovic showed why he has been the No. 1 player in the ATP Rankings for the third-most total weeks in history, though, by not getting disappointed himself. The 75-time tour-level titlist cracked a massive inside-out forehand to force a backhand error from Soeda, earning his fourth service break and with it, the match.

The 32-year-old struck 10 aces and won 81 per cent of his first-serve points. He also earned 61 per cent of his second-serve points, which is a better rate of points won than Soeda managed on his first delivery (60%).

"I probably played even on a higher level than the first round," Djokovic said. "So the game is going in the right direction, that's for sure."

Djokovic will next face the winner of fifth seed Lucas Pouille and Japanese No. 2 Yoshihito Nishioka. The World No. 1 owns a 2-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against Pouille — with those victories coming this year at the Australian Open and in Cincinnati, respectively — and he has never played Nishioka.

Did You Know?
Djokovic is trying to win a tournament on his main draw debut for the 10th time in his career. The last time the Serbian achieved the feat was two years ago in Eastbourne.

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