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By Pawan Atri
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Djokovic will strive to tighten a few screws in his game before the business end of the tournament starts from next week. All through Friday's match against the cunning Radek Stepanek, the reigning champion never looked comfortable with the change of pace in the shots as the Czech mixed up the tempo with a lot of chip and charge points at the net, a few back-spinning drop-shots and some unconventional shot-making.
Stan on the other hand is coming into the duel with an impressive 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4 win over the last remaining American man in the draw – Sam Querrey. The world no.22’s loss at the hands of the world no.17 means that for the second straight year, no US player has made it to the pre-quarterfinals of the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific.
The top seed though is probably the greatest slugger of all time and his almost supernatural ability to smack winners from the most defensive positions makes him the toughest guy to beat. Moreover, his record against the Lausanne native is unbelievable and will give him a great deal of confidence that he can get the job done today.
Both players have met each other a staggering 13 times with Novak overwhelmingly leading the record 11-2. He has not lost to the Swiss no.2 since 2006, and comes into the contest on a run of 10 successive victories against Roger Federer’s doubles partner. The last clash between the two players took place at the same stage at the US Open in 2012 and it was the Serb who came out trumps in straight sets, although Wawrinka had to retire midway through the third set.
However, if Wawrinka can produce a similar type of performance like what Stepanek had done two days earlier, then the world no.1 might just struggle a bit. Djokovic had admitted that he was taken by surprise by the efficient net play of the Czech: "Absolutely it was great. Great match and great fun. It's always tricky to play Radek. He's a talented player. Skillful player. He's skillful on the net and he was not giving me a lot of rhythm — he was changing up the pace on the ball. Nowadays everything is based on the baseline. It's nice to see somebody coming to the net."
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