ATP Indian Wells: Daniel stuns Djokovic

Published by Matt Trollope

Novak Djokovic (L) congratulates Taro Daniel after falling to the Japanese in the second round at Indian Wells; Getty Images
Taro Daniel scores the biggest win of his career by beating 13th seed Novak Djokovic in the second round, while defending champion and No.1 seed Roger Federer advances.

Novak Djokovic’s return to tennis ended at the first hurdle when the 12-time major champion was downed by Taro Daniel.

The Japanese qualifier beat Djokovic, a five-time winner at the BNP Paribas Open, 7-6(3) 4-6 6-1.

Djokovic, who had not played a match since undergoing elbow surgery after falling in the fourth round of the Australian Open, sprayed an unsightly 61 unforced errors during the two-and-a-half hour contest.

“It felt like the first match I have ever played on the tour, very weird,” Djokovic admitted.

Daniel moves on to a third-round meeting with Leonardo Mayer, whose opponent Kei Nishikori withdrew before their match citing a cold.

It was the biggest victory of the Japanese 25-year-old’s career, and after he sealed it, he dropped to his knees at Stadium 1 as the crowd roared.

He had shown glimpses of his shot-making talent and athleticism in a four-set loss to Rafael Nadal at last year’s US Open, but had never been ranked higher than No.85. He is currently 109th.

Djokovic essentially sealed his fate when he coughed up a double fault to fall behind 5-1 in the final set.

Although he ripped two impressive return winners in the final game, he looked subdued and passive, unable to keep a rally going beyond a few shots and even at one stage not chasing a forehand within reasonable reach.

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“I just completely lost rhythm, everything, struggled a little bit with the health the last couple of weeks,” the Serb added.

“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. Nerves were there. I made so many unforced errors.”

Federer hangs tough

In a match held over from Saturday night, Roger Federer resumed on Sunday against Federico Delbonis and eventually subdued the Argentinian in a tight second set.

Federer, the defending champion at Indian Wells, let slip a 5-2 lead in the second-set tiebreak and was forced to save a set point before emerging a 6-3 7-6(6) winner.

It was a scratchy performance from the Swiss, who leaked 40 unforced errors while producing only 22 winners. The longer the rallies went, the more Delbonis had the edge, winning 33 points – compared to Federer’s 20 – that extended five shots or more.

So Federer remained committed to keeping points short and on his terms. Match point exemplified this – he belted a crosscourt forehand and followed it into net, picking off an angled backhand volley that Delbonis couldn’t handle.

Next up for Federer is 25th seed Filip Krajinovic.

Zverev among seeds sent packing

Seven seeds were shown the door on Sunday in the Californian desert, with Alexander Zverev the highest of those.

The No.4 seed looked to have survived a scratchy start against Joao Sousa when he levelled the match at a set apiece and moved ahead 4-1 in the third.

But despite having a point for 5-1, the German couldn’t put Sousa away.

Playing aggressive tennis against an increasingly passive Zverev, Sousa rattled off five straight games to book a third-round berth, where he will meet Milos Raonic.

Frenchman Lucas Pouille, seeded No.9, fell 6-4 6-4 to Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri, while Diego Schwartzman, the 14th seed, also went down in straight sets to a qualifier – Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.

No.15 seed John Isner was also beaten, yet his 6-7(5) 7-6(3) 7-5 loss came against the ever-dangerous Gael Monfils, a former world No.6.

Monfils goes on to face fellow Frenchman Pierre Hugues-Herbert, who upset 24th seed Gilles Muller 6-3 7-5.

Australian Open semifinalist Kyle Edmund, the No.21 seed, was defeated 6-4 6-4 by lucky loser Dudi Sela of Israel.

Cilic, Del Potro and Raonic advance

Moving through to the third round were Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro, who avoided the seeded exodus with straight-sets wins on Sunday night.

Del Potro, seeded sixth, brushed aside young Aussie wildcard Alex De Minaur for the loss of just three games while No.2 seed Cilic ended Marton Fucsovics’ campaign in straight sets.

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Del Potro’s victory set up an intriguing content against former world No.3 David Ferrer, who ousted Tennys Sandgren in straight sets.

Raonic, meanwhile, won an all-Canadian battle when he overcame teen sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The 17-year-old was electrifying the crowd when he reached 0-40 as Raonic was serving for the match, but the more experienced Canadian rediscovered his big serve and powered to a 6-4 6-4 win.

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