Novak Djokovic insists his passion for the sport will continue to give him strength as he looks to rebound from his latest setback – a three-set defeat to Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund in the Madrid second round on Wednesday.
Djokovic, who is yet to reach a quarter-final at any tournament so far this season, had three opportunities to break Edmund at 2-all in the deciding set but the 23-year-old relied on his big serve to get out of trouble and rushed towards victory. Edmund’s reward is a place in the third round of a Masters 1000 event for the first time in his career.
Djokovic walked off court straight to his post-match press conference, which went as fast as that third set against Edmund.
The ex-world No. 1 is 6-6 win-loss this season, but more telling is that he is 0-4 in deciding sets in 2018.
“There are obvious things that are not working well for me. But I have to keep working on them and pray that – and hope that my game will get stronger, get better as definitely as the matches go the distance,” conceded Djokovic.
“Especially at such big tournaments against quality players, you’ve got to, you know, step in. I tried but obviously, yeah, wasn’t to be today. Hopefully, next one.”
The pair exchanged breaks early in the opening set, with Edmund the first to draw blood. Djokovic drew level but was broken again and the Brit quickly ran away with the set.
Djokovic was ready to pounce though early in the second and opened up a 2-0 lead. He had opportunities to extend his advantage in game seven and went up a double-break by exploiting the Edmund backhand.
After forcing a decider, Djokovic had triple-break point on the Edmund serve midway through the third set but Edmund found his serve when he needed it the most, then broke for 5-3. He served out the win, at love, to book a place in the last-16, where he faces Belgium’s David Goffin.
Djokovic has reunited with his former coach Marian Vajda, as well as fitness trainer Gebhard Phil-Gritsch in efforts to bring his game back to scratch. He understands it’s going to be a long process, and that staying positive will be key.
“It’s not the end of the world. Obviously, I’ve played this sport so many years and had a bunch of success. I try to always remind myself and be grateful for that,” said the 12-time Grand Slam champion.
“At the same time, nobody is forcing me to play this sport. I do it because I like it. I want to do it. And that’s something also that makes me fortunate to play the sport.
“So that’s where I draw my strength. And as long as I keep going, as long as I love the sport, I’ll keep going. And that’s all it is.”
The Serb, who turns 31 in two weeks’ time, felt unlucky on some crucial points in the decider, and paid tribute to Edmund who is having a statement season, having reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, and will now break the top-20 for the first time.
“Kyle was just better in the decisive moments, and I was a bit unlucky. 4-3, couple bad bounces, the lines that he hit, and the game is gone. Next game is new balls, and he is hitting all four first serves in. The match is gone, you know. And I was pretty close but, yeah, that’s tennis,” explained Djokovic.
“He has improved, obviously, his backhand. His forehand is obviously his weapon and he has been using it very well, backing up the serve with that forehand. Backhand, he has improved his backhand, down the line. Couple important points he won with that shot today.
“Obviously new coach (Fredrik Rosengren) and someone I’ve known for many years. He worked with (Mario) Ancic. He is a very good coach. Definitely Kyle is playing the best tennis of his life.”
Djokovic believes the margins were slim and concludes that “luck was on his side a little bit. But, also, he was courageous enough to attack the balls when it mattered, and he deserved to win.”
Rafael Nadal was due next on Estadio Manolo Santana and saw parts of Djokovic’s match. He also agrees that only a handful of points decided the winner.
“I think he’s going step by step to be able to recover and be at the category he deserves. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to be back up at the highest level,” Nadal said of Djokovic.
Edmund, who was runner-up on clay in Marrakech last month, is happy with his progress after defeating a third top-12 player this season, which he started ranked 50 in the world.
“Pleased with the way my game’s developing, that I’m able to beat a player like that. So does me the world of good in lots of ways: confidence, belief. It’s just a really good win for me,” said Edmund.
Major doubts have emerged over Andy Murray‘s recovery from hip surgery and his fitness for the grass-court season.
The former world number one has not played a competitive match since Wimbledon last summer and has twice aborted comeback attempts, first at the US Open and then in Australia in January.
After the second of those he went under the knife in Melbourne and was initially very positive about his prospects.
Following a successful period in the gym, he expressed hope he would be able to return before the grass-court season and the Lawn Tennis Association created two new second-tier tournaments in Glasgow and Loughborough, partly with Murray’s comeback in mind.
But the Glasgow event came and went last week without him and Murray is not on the entry list for the tournament in Loughborough, beginning on May 21.
The Scot, who turns 31 next week, has been notably quiet on social media since a flurry of activity when he returned to on-court training in France at the end of March.
He has reportedly not been seen at his training base at Wimbledon for a number of weeks, and his coach Jamie Delgado posted a picture on Twitter on Tuesday after hitting, not with Murray but Tim Henman.
Murray was on the entry list for the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club, which was released on Tuesday, while he has also entered the Libema Open in Holland, starting on June 11.
But the signs now are he could well miss both, as well as potentially Wimbledon, meaning he would not have played competitive tennis for more than a year.
Murray has continued to enter tournaments, most recently the Citi Open in Washington, which starts on July 28. In an accompanying interview with the Washington Post, the three-time grand slam champion compared his recovery to the back surgery he had in 2013, saying: “This time’s been harder. There’s been a lot more ups and downs.”
Speaking in Monte Carlo last month, Rafael Nadal gave an indication that all was not well with Murray’s recovery after revealing he had spoken to his long-time friend and rival on the phone.
The world number one said: “I know how tough and frustrating it is when you work every day and you don’t see the light of how to improve. But then one day trying things, trying treatments, one day things are going better, no? That’s what I really hope about him because he is important, very important, for our tour.”
Daria Kasatkina believes she’s back on track after a brief struggle that followed her breakthrough runner-up showing at Indian Wells in March.
The Russian, who turned 21 on Monday, snapped a three-match losing streak by defeat Wang Qiang in her Madrid opener, then claimed a smooth 6-3, 6-1 win over Romanian Sorana Cirstea to make the third round at the Caja Magica on Tuesday.
She defeated five top-10 opponents during that stretch and catapulted herself to a career-high No. 11.
But a quarter-final exit in Charleston – where she was the defending champion – along with opening round defeats in Miami, Stuttgart and Prague set Kasatkina back a little bit, but she’s happy to reveal that her mini slump is behind her now.
“It was tough after Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, mentally it was very tough to handle this. Then I arrived to European clay in Stuttgart, which was not like really clay, so it was tough,” Kasatkina told Sport360 in Madrid on Tuesday.
“But I was pretty positive after that. I had a few tournaments which were like warm-up before the big ones like Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. I started to work better and I feel much better so I think everything is going in the right way.
“It’s a little bit pressure, some expectations from the side, and also from your side, you think if you play the finals of the big tournaments you need to play like this every week, which is really difficult. You have to get used to it and get more experience, so from this part it’s pretty tough but I’m getting used to it, thank to my team who is always supporting me.”
As a former junior Roland Garros champion (2014), Kasatkina grew up loving the clay and her only career title thus far came on the green clay of Charleston last year.
But her positive results on hard courts recently means she finds it hard to single out clay as her favourite surface nowadays.
“In juniors I used to prefer it much more than hard court but for the moment I cannot say that I prefer clay to hard courts. I like clay, but at the same time I’m feeling pretty confident on hard courts too. I’m happy because it seems like my hard-court tennis went to another level which is good,” she explains.
Kasatkina next faces either third-seeded home star Garbine Muguruza, or Croatian Donna Vekic in the third round in the Spanish capital.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 7, 2018
Besides getting to celebrate her birthday in Madrid, Kasatkina also watched Sunday’s Clasico closely, as an avid Barcelona fan.
She once said that if she were a football player, she would be Andres Iniesta and she admits she got emotional watching him contest his last-ever Clasico.
“I was watching of course two days ago. It was very emotional, I almost cried when he left the field. Time flies unfortunately. But it was a very nice story,” said the Russian.