MIAMI • Novak Djokovic admitted that he rushed his comeback from injury and refused to commit to the clay-court season after losing 6-3, 6-4 to Benoit Paire at the Miami Masters on Friday.
It was another setback for the former world No. 1 since returning from the elbow problem that sidelined him for six months and led to a "minor" surgical intervention after a disappointing Australian Open in January.
The 12-time Major champion, who lost in the fourth round in Melbourne and dropped his only match at Indian Wells last week, had not lost three consecutive matches since the end of the 2007 season.
"I wanted to come to Indian Wells and Miami because I wanted to see whether I can play a match," the six-time Miami Open champion 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 hardcourt tournaments to be a precursor to a full clay-court season, he sounded unsure following the defeat.
"That was the plan," the 30-year-old said when asked if he felt ready for the April 14-22 Monte Carlo Masters. "But let's see what happens."
Before Friday, he had won 16 straight matches at the Miami Open (he did not enter last year's event) and had a 21-match unbeaten streak against players from France. But Paire was the better player in their second-round clash.
END OF TWO DJOKOVIC RUNS
Djokovic's unbeaten streak against French players.
Djokovic's unbeaten streak at the Miami Masters.
The world No. 47 was the aggressor with his whipping forehand, and his serve was electric. He served nine aces and won 71 per cent of his service points. He broke Djokovic at love to seal the win, the Serb dumping a backhand into the net on Paire's first match point.
"I'm trying, but it's not working," said Djokovic. "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."
But he was encouraged 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".
World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki and rising star Naomi Osaka were also second-round casualties.
Wozniacki slumped to a shock 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat by 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 defeat to fourth-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES
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