'Just impossible at the moment' for Novak Djokovic after another defeat - this time at Miami Open
Losses also for Caroline Wozniacki and in-form Naomi Osaka, but Juan Martin del Potro continues red-hot form
Six-time champion Novak Djokovic "ran out of gas" in a straight sets loss to Benoit Paire, while the red-hot Juan Martin Del Potro won his opening match at the Miami Open on Friday.
It was another setback for the Serbian star Djokovic as he bids to return from the elbow injury that sidelined him for six months and finally saw him have "minor" surgical intervention after a disappointing Australian Open.
"I'm trying, but it's not working," said Djokovic, who lost his opener 6-3, 6-4. "That's all it is. I mean, obviously I'm not feeling great when I'm playing this way."
"Of course I want to be able to play as well as I want to play. Just, it's impossible at the moment. That's all."
While Djokovic is struggling, world No 6 Del Potro is headed in the opposite direction. The 29-year-old Argentine showed why he is the hottest player on the ATP Tour right now with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Robin Haase in his second round match.
Paire broke Djokovic at love to seal the win, Djokovic dumping a backhand into the net on the Frenchman's first match point.
"I felt I started the match well, first six games," Djokovic said. "Then I just ran out of gas. He was serving well. I just wasn't able to break him down. He was just coming up with the good shots at the right time. It happened very fast."
Djokovic had also lost his opening match at the Indian Wells Masters last week. But he was encouraged in Miami this week to find himself playing without pain for the first time "in years".
He said a lack of match fitness was "one of the things" preventing him from gaining any steam in his bid to return to his top form.
But he said that in attempting to play through injury for so long, "I compromised my game and the movement and everything ... I'm trying to figure things out.
"I wanted to come to Indian Wells and Miami because I wanted to see whether I can play a match," he said. "I love playing on the hard court. I wanted to get a couple of tournaments before the clay court season starts.
"I obviously wasn't ready for that."
Although he had planned for the two Stateside hard-court tournaments to be a precursor to a full clay court season, Djokovic sounded unsure after the defeat.
"That was the plan," he said when asked if he felt ready to head into the Monte Carlo Masters Aril 14-22. "But let's see what happens."
Former US Open winner Del Potro extended his win streak to 12 straight matches as he seeks his third straight ATP title after winning back-to-back in Acapulco and Indian Wells.
Del Potro blasted five aces and won 79 per cent of his first-serve points in the two hour and nine minute match.
Del Potro moves on to the third round where he will battle 26th seeded Kei Nishikori who needed three sets to eliminate Aussie qualifier John Millman 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.
In other matches on Friday, second seed Marin Cilic, of Croatia, eased past Pierre-Hugues Herbert, of France, 7-5, 6-3. Canada's Milos Raonic rolled over Swede Mikael Ymer 6-3, 6-3. Third seeded Grigor Dimitrov defeated Maximilian Marterer 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. South Korea's Chung Hyeon toppled unseeded Matthew Ebden 6-3, 7-5.
Meanwhile, world No 2 Caroline Wozniacki and rising star Naomi Osaka became early round casualties while veteran Venus Williams survived a scare to book her third round spot at the Miami Open on Friday.
Wozniacki slumped to a shock 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Monica Puig of Puerto Rico while Osaka's bid for the "Sunshine Double" of Indian Wells and Miami Open titles ended with a 6-4, 6-2 loss to fourth seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.
Puig, 24, compared her win over reigning Australian Open champion Wozniacki to her gold medal triumph at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"It felt like Rio all over again," Puig said. "I have been waiting for this and to finally start finding myself again."
Wozniacki, 27, appeared to be headed to an easy victory after winning the first set in less than 30 minutes before the wheels fell off. World No 82 Puig clinched the win with a blistering forehand winner on the second match point.
"I just tried to stay positive," she said. "I didn't think I played that poorly in the first set. She's a great player so I had to stay focused and keep fighting."
Puig became the first Puerto Rican athlete to win gold in any sport at the Olympics when she beat Germany's Angelique Kerber in the final.
It was another disappointing exit for Wozniacki, who finally silenced her critics earlier this year with her first grand slam title in Melbourne, where she defeated Simona Halep in the final.
Wozniacki drops to 17-5 on the season as she has now crashed out of her last two tournaments in stunning fashion. In her most recent WTA event in Indian Wells, Wozniacki was upset in the round of 16 by Russian dynamo Daria Kasatkina.
Japan's Osaka came into the second-round match against Svitolina on an eight-match winning streak that included her dream run to the Indian Wells title and a first-round triumph here over 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams.
But it was Svitolina who emerged with a victory thanks to a solid service performance that saw her win nearly 80 percent of points on her first serve.
Svitolina saved five of six break points she faced and broke Osaka four times en route to the victory in an hour and 23 minutes.
Osaka saved two match points before holding for 5-2 in the second set, but she was unable to convert three break points in the next game as Svitolina sealed the win.
"It was challenging. I'm very happy the way I handled this match today and the way I was playing," Svitolina said.
In other second-round action on Friday, seven-time grand Slam shampion Williams stormed back from deficits in each set to defeat world No 88 Natalia Vikhlyantseva 7-5, 6-4.
The 37-year-old American improved to 7-3 on the season as she clinched the victory on the second match point when the 21-year-old Russian smacked a forehand wide.
Williams trailed 2-5 in the first set but won five straight games to take the opener. She also rallied in the second set, falling behind 0-3 before winning six of the next seven for the victory.
Ninth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova defeated 19-year-old Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.
Updated: March 24, 2018 11:39 AM