AFPINDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AFP-Jiji) — Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel sent five-time tournament champion Novak Djokovic tumbling out of the Indian Wells Masters with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-1 victory on Sunday.
It was another snag in the return for the 30-year-old Djokovic who admitted he was out of sorts while playing in just his second event of 2018.
The former world No. 1 is making a cautious return to the ATP Tour after stopping his 2017 season following Wimbledon, due to a right elbow injury.
“For me it felt like first match I ever played on the tour. Very weird,” Djokovic said. “I mean, I just completely lost rhythm, everything. Just struggled also a little bit with the health the last couple of weeks.”
Djokovic scrambled to win the second set, but looked rusty on stadium court, making 62 unforced errors compared to 29 for Daniel.
Djokovic had four aces but overall he served poorly making four double faults and winning just 65 percent of his first-serve points.
Daniel, who is ranked 109th in the world, advanced to the third round, where he will face Gael Monfils of France, who outlasted American John Isner 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
In other action, current world No. 1 Roger Federer picked up where he left off, winning the four games he needed to defeat Federico Delbonis after their match was interrupted the night before by rain.
Federer returned to stadium court on Sunday afternoon and needed an hour to finish off his second round victory 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).
His title defense got off to a soggy start Saturday night when play was suspended because of rain showers, with Federer up a set and tied 2-2 in the second.
“It’s been a long time since I have been interrupted at night and have to come back the next day,” Federer said.
Federer is making his 17th appearance in the California desert and is assured of remaining world No. 1 if he makes it to the semifinals.
Federer will face 25th-seed Filip Krajinovic in the third round.
Federer said he understands well how even a champion like Djokovic could be struggling to find his game so soon after having surgery.
“To me, it’s not that surprising,” Federer said. “When you go away from the game for over a two-month period, it starts feeling a little bit that way.
“When you do come back from injury or when you haven’t played in a long time, it just takes extra effort. It is still early stages for Novak coming back and the first one after surgery. He’s only going to get better from here.”
Nishikori ousted by illness
Meanwhile, Kei Nishikori pulled out ahead of his opening match due to illness. The world No. 25 had been scheduled to face Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer in a second-round match.
“Unfortunately I have to pull out,” Nishikori said. “I have been sick for over a week and tried everything I could to get better.
“I’m still not strong enough to go play a match. I’m very sorry as I love this tournament. I really look forward to being back next year.”
Nishikori withdrew from the Australian Open earlier this year with a right wrist injury. In his most recent outing at the Mexican Open in Acapulco, he lost in the first round to rising Canadian star Denis Shapovalov.Speech