It’s not been going great for Novak Djokovic as of late and just when you think he is due a break and his luck might change, news emerges that his right elbow injury has flared up again and he might miss out on defending his title in Miami this week.
The past eight months for Djokovic have been a real mystery and while the high-speed train he was impersonating was bound to slow down, it is the stark contrast between his demeanour up until last year’s Roland Garros final and now that is most alarming.
His negative body language throughout his straight-sets defeat to Nick Kyrgios last week in Indian Wells was quite telling.
After losing to Kyrgios earlier this month at Acapulco, you expected Djokovic to come out with guns blazing against the Aussie in California.
There’s no shame in losing to the uber-talented Kyrgios the first time you meet him, but the fact that Djokovic – arguably the greatest returner in the game – was unable to create a single break point against him in their second encounter this month is bizarre.
Djokovic simply couldn’t get a read on the Kyrgios serve, which granted, sounds like an impossible task sometimes, but for so long, the Serb has been the embodiment of his shoe sponsor adidas’ cliche of a slogan: “Impossible is Nothing”.
What has happened to the warrior-like Djokovic who crushed opponents’ spirit with his unwavering refusal to lose a single match? Where are those primal growls he typically lets out when he misses one single groundstroke?
That version of Djokovic briefly appeared in January in Doha, when he saved five match points against Fernando Verdasco before he beat Andy Murray in the final. It made cameos in his three-set tussles with Juan Martin del Potro. But he hasn’t been around much ever since.
Instead, we saw a Djokovic who looked helpless and frustrated against a power-hitting Kyrgios, walking from one side of the baseline to the other between points while the Aussie dictated with his serve.
Tennis is about many things. It’s about match-ups and surfaces, tactics and mental prowess, injuries and pain, on-court performance and off-court preparation…
This attitude change from Djokovic on court feels more mental than anything else.
It’s true that he has encountered some trouble with his elbow, but if he was playing with anti-inflammatories in Indian Wells as reports are suggesting, why was he playing doubles with Viktor Troicki (they won two doubles ties before losing their quarter-final)?
Wouldn’t it have been wiser to rest his ailing elbow in between his singles matches?
Perhaps playing doubles with a close friend was Djokovic’s attempt to bring back some fun to his life on court.
He had spoken to Serbian media about how the extreme competitive mode he was in and the constant state of pressure he was under started to get to him.
There have also been rumours about personal problems affecting him last season. The true reasons behind his decline have not been openly discussed, but one thing is evident – that Djokovic’s issues seem far more mental or psychological than anything else.
Until that hungry, insatiable beast that was on the prowl up until last summer reappears, Djokovic’s rivals will keep getting more and more confident every time they face him.
Having seen off Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic respectively, Federer and Kyrgios are set to do battle in the last eight of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.
However, for Federer, facing the talented Australian won’t recall good memories as the Canberra native won their only previously meeting in 2015.
Kyrgios edged the Swiss in a three-set epic, 6-7 (2) 7-6 (5) 7-6 (12) in the round of 32, on clay, at the Madrid Open event two years.
There was little to separate them that day and the match is remembered for a gruelling third set tie-breaker, which of course went the way of the Aussie.
So, can Federer level up their head-to-head or will Krygios take a 2-0 lead?
"Looking forward to it" Federer says of QF vs. Kyrgios. "He's a great player. Of course I'd like to get it back" (from Madrid loss) #BNPPO17— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 16, 2017
Rising Kyrgios vs Still Rising Federer in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 16, 2017
Japanese lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka continued his giant-killing spree in Indian Wells by pulling off a tremendous comeback to take out No13 seed Tomas Berdych and reach the fourth round.
The diminutive Nishioka, who beat 19th-seeded ace machine Ivo Karlovic in round two, fought back from a 1-6, 2-5 deficit to outlast Berdych 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in a two-hour, 21-minute battle.
Nishioka, who lost to Elias Ymer in the final round of qualifying, only made it into the draw after Dmitry Tursunov withdrew with a leg injury. In an ironic twist of fate, Nishioka faced Ymer again, this time in the first round of the main draw, and beat the Swede to advance.
Following his impressive wins of Karlovic (who is 41cm taller than him) and Berdych, the 21-year-old Nishioka is now the first lucky loser to reach the fourth round at Indian Wells.
His win over Berdych was the biggest of his career and just the second over a top-20 player.
The 70th-ranked Japanese lefty next takes on third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, who beat Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5, 6-3 to make the last-16.
“Today was wonderful coming back. But at the beginning I didn’t play my best tennis, but this is, I think, not technique and just on mentality, and then I never lost my mentality. That’s why I think I won today,” said Nishioka after his triumphant comeback.
“I was down 1-6, 2-5, and I tried to do my best, but today I couldn’t figure out how can I beat Berdych,” explained
“But down 2-5, I tried to find a way, and then I think he gave me a little bit chances. So I find a way, and then just kept trying every point. Then he showed me, like, a little bit angry, a little bit feeling tired. So I figured out how to win from down 2-5.
“And then my body feeling like I cannot move, like, that much, but just stay on focus and try fight. And then I find a way.”
Nishioka's IW:— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) March 14, 2017
Loses to Ymer in Q2
Beats Ymer as lucky loser in R1
Takes out Karlovic(41cm taller than him)
Beats Berdych from 1-6 2-5 down
Berdych, a semi-finalist in Indian Wells in 2013, held match point in the 10th game of the second set and served for the win twice but unraveled against an inspired Nishioka.
After Nishioka forced the decisive set by winning the tiebreaker, the two traded breaks to open the third before Nishioka broke for a 2-1.
Although Berdych saved one match point in the ninth game, Nishioka closed it out in the next with a love game to reach the fourth round of a Masters tournament for the first time.
Nishioka said he didn’t change his game plan match to complete his comeback but he noticed Berdych was visibly “nervous”.
“I think (in his) last match against Fratangelo, the time he was, I think, nervous as well in the second set. So I can see he’s going to be nervous. So, I mean, I didn’t know he gonna do, like, unforced errors like today. But, yeah, but I knew he gonna be nervous. I knew it,” added Nishioka.
Wawrinka reached the fourth round by maintaining his clean record against Kohlschreiber, making it five wins in five encounters with the German.
“It was a really good match,” said Wawrinka, who owns three grand slam titles but has won just one of the tour’s coveted Masters titles.
“The first set was not easy, for sure, but in general I’m happy with my game. I was serving well. I think I’m moving better and better and it’s all positive so far.”
With superstars Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all jammed into the bottom quarter of the draw, Wawrinka’s path looks wide open. But the Swiss said he didn’t think of it that way.
“It’s not like I have been in a lot of semi-finals, finals in Masters 1000,” said Wawrinka. “So I need to focus on every match.”