Djokovic holds nerves to reach last 16 in Miami

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had to dig deep to beat Federico Delbonis 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 in the third round of the Miami Open on Sunday.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had to dig deep to beat Federico Delbonis 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 in the third round of the Miami Open on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI • It was far from a vintage Novak Djokovic performance, but despite some shaky moments at the Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, the top-ranked player had enough quality at key moments to show why he remains the favourite to lift a record seventh Miami Open title.

If the Serb is to eclipse Andre Agassi's six ATP crowns in Florida, he will have to tighten his game after being made to fight for a place in the last 16 with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 victory over spirited Federico Delbonis of Argentina.

He almost let a 5-2 advantage slip in the first set and was visibly furious with himself as the second squirmed from his grasp, with his opponent enjoying a 67 per cent success rate on his first serve.

After outlasting Delbonis to set up today's fourth-round meeting with Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut, who defeated Italian Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-4, Djokovic admitted he was relieved "that he managed to hold his nerve".

The world No. 1, who had 36 winners to 24 from the world No. 83, said post-game: "I managed to really play well last couple games of first set, put myself in front, then I played a couple of really bad service games.

"Credit to Federico, he stepped in. He was the one controlling the pace. I backed up. I didn't have that much depth and power in my shots, and he used it.

"First two, three games of the third set were crucial. (I was) really fighting, trying to be present, regain the positioning on the court more than anything.

"It was really close at the start of the third set. It was an exciting match... I got down on myself and Federico started swinging."

In the women's draw, Simona Halep also had to battle back from a set down to reach the last 16 with a 5-7, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 victory over Slovenia's Polona Hercog.

The former world No. 1 secured two breaks in the decider to complete a marathon victory after two hours and 50 minutes.

Elated with her performance, Halep said afterwards that she "run like crazy for three hours", and added: "It's been a tough match, we both played unbelievable... this makes me more happy and confident.

"If I keep doing this, I have a chance to become No. 1 again."

The world No. 3 Romanian can overtake top-ranked Japanese Naomi Osaka if she triumphs in Miami, or she reaches the final and Czech Petra Kvitova, who is also in the fourth round, does not take the title.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2019, with the headline 'Djokovic holds nerves to reach last 16 in Miami'. Print Edition | Subscribe