Distracted Djokovic makes shock Miami exit

MIAMI • Top-ranked Novak Djokovic admitted that his off-court commitments may have disrupted his play, following his 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the last 16 of the Miami Open on Tuesday.

Djokovic came into the tournament with little momentum, having lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round at Indian Wells.

The stumbles have come unexpectedly for the 15-time Grand Slam winner, who had appeared untouchable as he won his seventh Australian Open title in January.

While Djokovic is still a clear leader of the pack in the rankings, his leadership role off the court as president of the ATP player council has perhaps hampered that status.

He has spent these tournaments embroiled in a backroom imbroglio over the ATP board's contentious decision not to renew the contract of chief executive Chris Kermode.

Though Djokovic initially refuted a suggestion that those things had disrupted his play, he ultimately conceded that they played a part.

"I just had way too many things off the court," he said. "I guess that affected me a little bit."

Following his win, the Spaniard Agut acknowledged "the key of the match was at the beginning of the second set".

He added: "If I wanted to win the match, I had to be very close at the score. Otherwise Novak, when he gets an advantage, he plays really aggressive."

Indeed, Djokovic had never previously lost a match at the Miami Open after winning the first set - a string of 41 matches.

His advantage looked even more secure when he broke his opponent in the first game of the second set, only to "lose the momentum".

The Serb said: "I lost the rhythm in the second set. I gave him a little room to step in, and he did. He made a great comeback."

In the women's draw, Petra Kvitova's hopes of overtaking Naomi Osaka atop the rankings in Miami ended after a 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-2 last-eight loss to Ashleigh Barty.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'Distracted Djokovic makes shock Miami exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe