One of the most compelling stories at the Miami Open on Friday unfolded on cozy Court 1, where charismatic Serbian best friends Janko Tipsarevic and Novak Djokovic played doubles against Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Jurgen Meltzer of Austria.
The Serbs lost 6-4, 3-6 (10-7), but Tipsarevic treasured the match because he hadn’t played one in 17 months.
“It’s a long story, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible,” Tipsarevic told a few reporters in a small interview room after the match.
He clasped his hands behind his head, took a deep breath, and spent the next 20 minutes explaining how after taking “more than 200” anti-inflammatory injections in 2013, he opted for two surgeries to remove benign tumors from his left heel. He spent months in bed, on crutches and wondered if he’d ever play again.
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“My fault for not taking time off to heal, but I was top 10, chasing the ranking, afraid to drop, big mistake from my side,” he said. “Name a therapy, I tried it. Everything there is on this earth except an artificial foot, I tried it. I know there are far worse things than sports injuries, but this period was the toughest moment of my life. I was really afraid.”
He felt so guilty for missing the Davis Cup final at the end of the 2013 that he had a panic attack and wound up in the hospital. In 2014, he became a father to baby Emili but spent much of the spring and fall recovering from surgery.
When he decided to come back in doubles here, Djokovic volunteered to be his partner, even though he is busy with singles.
“Big thumbs up to Novak,” Tipsarevic said.
“It’s an incredibly sad story with him in the last 17 months … just a dreadful time,” Djokovic said. “I know him for such a long time. We are great friends. I tried to, as a friend and colleague, be close to him, to give him support, let him know that I’m here.
“The opportunity to play with him was very special for me as a friend. I cared very much to win this match. I got very tight in the super-tiebreaker, I have to say, because it was a very tough match.
“But we talked after the match, and he just appreciated the fact that he can actually play, just feel that match play.”
Said Tipsarevic: “From now on I appreciate every point on court.”
Teenagers Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev, Hyeon Chung and Andrey Rublev all reached the second round. It is the first time four or more teens advanced that far here since 2007, when Andy Murray (19, semifinals), Djokovic (19, winner), Sam Querrey (19, 2R) and Evgeny Korolev (19, 2R) and Juan Martin del Potro (18, 4R).
On the other end of the age spectrum, Kimiko Date-Krumm, 44, the oldest regular on the women’s tour, was back at it in doubles Friday afternoon. She and her 23-year-old doubles partner, Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, put up a tough fight, but lost 6-2, 6-7 (5-7) (13-11) to Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic.
“It’s not easy playing with so much heat. Now I know why they call the basketball team here the Miami Heat.” — Victoria Azarenka on the weather conditions at the Miami Open.