A bemused-looking Novak Djokovic described his feeling on the court during his three-set defeat to world No. 109 Taro Daniel as “very weird” and that “it felt like first match I ever played on the tour”.
Djokovic, who was playing just his second tournament of the year and his first match since undergoing elbow surgery early last month, fell 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-1 to the Japanese qualifier in the Indian Wells second round on Sunday.
It was Djokovic’s earliest defeat at Indian Wells since his opening round loss on his debut back in 2006. The Serb is a five-time champion in the California desert and was seeded 10th this week.
The 30-year-old fell to 3-2 win-loss in 2018, having lost in the Australian Open fourth round in his only other competition this year.
“For me it felt like first match I ever played on the tour. Very weird. I mean, I just completely lost rhythm, everything. Just struggled also a little bit with the health the last couple of weeks,” said Djokovic, who appears to be dealing with the flu.
“But yeah, it was just – I was grateful to be out on the court after surgery that quickly. But at the same time, just didn’t feel good at all.”
Daniel came to Indian Wells carrying a 0-5 record this season in main draw tour-level matches. He then won two matches to qualify for Indian Wells and ousted fellow qualifier Cameron Norrie before pulling off the upset over Djokovic.
“Warming up this morning, I was like, ‘crap, this court is really big’. I was actually pretty nervous playing the match,” said the 25-year-old Daniel.
“But he obviously wasn’t in his top form, so I was able to take advantage of it. And even if I lost the second set, I still had faith I could pull something off in the third. And I was able to stay pretty tough, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
Djokovic served for the opening set at 5-3 but a sloppy service game saw him get broken. Daniel went up 4-1 in the tiebreak before Djokovic got the minibreak back. Daniel was unfazed as he clinched the next three points to take a one-set lead.
The New York-born Japanese went toe-to-toe with Djokovic in the long rallies, and would fire a down-the-line backhand every now and then that wowed the day session crowd.
Early in the second set, Djokovic experimented with drop shots to avoid the lengthy rallies with Daniel, and the plan was mostly working.
The Serb broke for 4-3 and it was all he needed to level the match as he secured the second set with a down-the-line backhand winner.
Daniel faced break points in the opening game of the decider but he brushed them away and it was the 25-year-old who then broke to open up a 4-1 lead and never looked back, handing Djokovic his first opening round defeat at a Masters 1000 tournament since Monte Carlo 2016.
“I just wanted to go out and see. I mean, I had no expectations,” said Djokovic.
“I was not even supposed to be here because of the surgery that was only five, six weeks ago. But I recovered very quickly, and I got myself ready. That’s it.”
Djokovic was sidelined with his elbow issue for six months in the second half of last season, and Indian Wells is just his second event in nine months.
The ex-world No. 1 says he is yet to find his rhythm in practice as well but is glad he recovered sooner than expected from his surgery and that he managed to get on a match court this week.
Did he struggle more mentally, physically or technically against Daniel?
“Everything. I mean, nerves were there. I made so many unforced errors that it was just one of those days where you’re not able to find the rhythm from the baseline, especially from the backhand side. That has always been a rock-solid shot for me throughout my career,” said Djokovic, who hit 61 unforced errors throughout the two-hour 31-minute match.
“Just some inexplicable, uncharacteristic errors.”
The Serb concedes that being sidelined for so long and struggling with a lengthy injury is new to him and he says he spoke to his countryman Viktor Troicki about how he dealt with his return to the game after getting suspended by the ITF for refusing to take a drugs test.
Asked if he felt scared on the court about reinjuring himself, or if he felt pain, Djokovic replied: “Obviously having only played a couple of matches in nine months, you’re still, in a way, battling inside of your mind whether you’re fit or not.
“And even though you don’t have pain, you’re still thinking about it, because it’s been something that I have been feeling and dragging for over two years.”
For Daniel, this counts as the biggest win of his career and takes him into a third round meeting with Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, who defeated lucky loser Ruben Bemelmans, a late replacement for Kei Nishikori (withdrew with an illness) on Sunday.
“The Djokovic I know is like the Djokovic I have seen on TV, and he never misses a ball. He puts the ball wherever he wants,” said Daniel.
“Today, obviously he was missing a lot of balls, but, I mean, even then you still have to beat him. Especially, you know, in a crowd like this, it’s pretty amazing to do it, and I’m pretty happy… it’s going to be a huge win for my career in the future, for sure.”
INDIAN WELLS — Gael Monfils says celebrating his victories by doing Black Panther’s ‘Wakanda forever’ salute is his way of showing support to his community and the blockbuster film’s message.
Monfils did the salute after his 6-7(5), 7-6(3), 7-5 victory over 15th-seeded John Isner in the Indian Wells second round on Sunday, as well as his opening round win over Matthew Ebden on Thursday.
“It’s definitely about that. I think that movie is great, it’s great for the community, for our community, it means quite a lot. It’s not just a sign. It’s everything. It’s everything going on and definitely it’s a shout-out saying that I’m supporting the Black Panther’s community,” the Frenchman told reporters in Indian Wells on Sunday.
“It’s a lot going on I think. It’s battling politics, everything you know for our community. I’m following, I have a close friend in France, he is actually really involved and every morning I read every post he does, every interview, his name is Claudy Siar and he’s from Guadeloupe.
“It’s the world in general. I’m not so much involved but sometimes I like to pay attention. When you have movies who help, who give belief and show strength, it’s good.”
Asked if he sees himself as a role model for the community or someone who is vocal about social issues, Monfils said: “Me? I don’t think so, but if I can refer the message with a sign, I do it.”
The Frenchman is not the only player to celebrate a match win by performing the salute. American 22-year-old Sachia Vickery also did it after she upset Garbine Muguruza in the second round.
Football players Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard have also done it during a Manchester United game.
Monfils is one of the more popular tennis players on tour, with his incredible athleticism, flamboyant playing style, and charisma always shining through on the court.
“It’s a blessing, it’s luck, it’s something that means a lot to me,” he said when asked about his adoring fans.
“I try to be myself on the court very naturally, give everything and show my emotion and if people can connect to me, it’s just great and I really appreciate it.”
The 31-year-old Monfils, who was born in Paris and whose father is from Guadeloupe, believes Indian Wells is a unique tournament that allows fans to be close to the players, and joked that the official hotel here is “80 per cent fans, 20 per cent players”.
He describes his experiences with fans in general as a mixed bag of positive and negative, noting the racism he is often subjected to.
“I have good and bad. Bad because basically every match I receive some racist comment and you can cross some racist person,” he explains.
“And then you can have the opposite like super-fans following you, in the street, in the shop, not far where you live. Both are weird a little bit but that’s the way our job is so we take it.”
— Sachia Vickery (@SachiaVick) March 9, 2018
Monfils was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world less than two years ago but is currently down to 42. He next faces his countryman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the third round.
Asked if his level of tennis is where he wants it to be at the moment, Monfils said: “It’s maybe 34 places away from where I want to be, so it’s very far. I think I can play better. I’m just fighting, I’m hanging around, but I’m not playing great tennis.
“Today was a bit better, I served better, I went for my forehand a bit more. But I think I can play better.”
Petra Kvitova’s winning streak came to an end as the Czech suffered a 6-2, 6-4 loss to 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova in the Indian Wells third round on Sunday.
Kvitova entered the contest having won her 14 previous consecutive matches, a stretch that included two title runs in St. Petersburg and Doha last month and one that matched the longest winning streak of her career.
But the world No. 9 was shocked by her American teenage opponent, who is ranked No. 149 in the world and is the youngest player to reach the fourth round at Indian Wells since Viktoriya Kutuzova in 2005.
“It feels so crazy. I’m shaking right now. This is the biggest stage I’ve ever played on against the strongest player I’ve ever faced,” Anisimova said on court after her triumph.
“She’s an amazing player, she was on a winning streak. I was just trying to stay focused but at the same time I was like ‘Oh my God’.”
Anisimova, who has got missiles for groundstrokes on both the forehand and backhand sides, raced to a one-set lead before Kvitova halted her progress and went up a break early in the second. But the New Jersey-native pegged Kvitova back, drawing level at 3-all then broke for a 5-3 lead.
Serving for the match, Anisimova was broken by a battling Kvitova, who stepped into the court and upped her aggression.
But that only delayed the inevitable as Kvitova quickly fell behind 0-40, handing her opponent three match points and Anisimova converted on her first opportunity on a netted backhand from the Czech.