MIAMI (AFP) - Novak Djokovic's pursuit of a record seventh Miami Open ATP title ended in dramatic fashion on Tuesday (March 26) as Roberto Bautista Agut superbly recovered from a first set destruction to win 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 and book a place in the quarter-finals.
The 30 year-old Spaniard may have beaten Djokovic on the way to winning the title in Doha earlier this year but 15-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic started like a train in this last-16 encounter before being amazingly reined back in.
After just 25 minutes, Djokovic was 5-0 ahead and on cruise control, Bautista Agut severely struggling to keep the Serbian at bay.
A short rain delay late in the second set allowed Bautista Agut to regroup, however.
He returned a completely different player and at the end of an absorbing 2hrs 29 mins, it was the No. 22 seed who will now meet defending champion John Isner for a place in the semi-finals.
"Of course this is very special for me," said Bautista Agut. "I just tried to play aggressive."
Djokovic left the court and headed straight to a press conference to try and explain this most remarkable of turnarounds at Hard Rock Stadium.
"He is a solid player but I shouldn't have lost this match, I had way too many wasted opportunities," said the world No. 1, who also failed to make the latter stages of Indian Wells this month.
"I thought I played well today and during this tournament but two or three sluggish games and that's what happens."
Djokovic, who also hinted his vociferous involvement in ATP tennis politics which saw president Chris Kermode ousted this month may have affected his focus, was initially consistent with his serve during the opening set.
The 31-year-old won 68 per cent of points on his first serve and 63 per cent on his second and mixed up his shots superbly, blending in power and subtlety to keep his opponent guessing.
A combination of his level dropping and Bautista Agut rising to the challenge saw a complete reversal in fortunes in the second set.
Bautista Agut was broken instantly yet the Spaniard responded well, especially after a 30 minute delay which saw him fight back and grab two set points, the second of which was taken when the reigning Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion netted a forehand.
He broke the Serb again for 3-1 in the third following an uncharacteristic double fault and although Djokovic never shirks a battle and hit back in the very next game, it was the Spaniard who took advantage of his opponent's faltering serve to move within two games of victory.
Serving for the match, he brought up two match points, another forehand winner sealing one of the best comebacks of his career.