Djokovic survives scare to make winning return to Indian Wells

Indian Wells (US), March 10 (IANS) The World No. 1 and five-time champion Novak Djokovic survived an opening-round scare in his return to Paribas Open, taken the distance by World No. 69 Australian Aleksandar Vukic before eventually grinding out a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory.

Playing for the first time since his loss in the 2024 Australian Open semifinals to Jannik Sinner, Djokovic recorded his 400th Masters 1000 win, and improved to 51-9 lifetime at Indian Wells with his triumph on Saturday night.

“Five years is a very long time for a tennis player. It’s amazing to be a part of this tournament as a player. There’s a great community, culture and love for the sport, and for tennis – you can feel it,” Djokovic told the crowd after his win.

The 24-time Grand Slam champion was out of the blocks quickly in his first appearance in the California desert since 2019, breaking for 1-0, and then solidifying his hold on the set with another break for 5-2. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the 36-year-old legend.

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The Aussie rebounded in set two, and he made his opportunity to prolong the match count when he scorched a forehand inside-out return to break Djokovic and claim the second set, 7-5, at the 90-minute mark.

Djokovic put his best serving on repeat and dropped a mere five points on serve across the stanza.

Vukic, sensing the inevitability of the situation, yielded a break in the fifth game, and another in the final game of the contest, Djokovic blew kisses to the raucous crowd, the match done and dusted in two hours and 10 hard-fought minutes.

The Serb will next meet Italian lucky loser Luca Nardi, who defeated China’s Zhang Zhizhen 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. It will be the first ATP Head-to-Head meeting between the pair.

–IANS

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