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.
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