Tennis

Novak Djokovic starts fast but needs three sets to advance while Serena Williams debuts strong at Miami Open

Novak Djokovic returns a serve by Martin Klizan during the Miami Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne on March 28, 2015.
Novak Djokovic returns a serve by Martin Klizan during the Miami Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne on March 28, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The wet, blustery conditions cleared, and the world’s two top-ranked tennis players — Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic — took center stage at the Miami Open on Saturday. Both are defending champions here, and played like they were in a hurry to get to the Ultra Music Festival or a South Beach dinner reservation.

Djokovic won the first three games over Martin Klizan in nine minutes, raced to a 5-0 lead in 17 minutes and took the first set in 21 minutes. But his opponent wasn’t ready to go home yet. And neither were the fans. They paid good money for those Stadium Court seats and wanted to see more tennis.

They got the three-set match they craved, and Djokovic, a four-time champion on Key Biscayne, rallied from a sloppy second set to win 6-0, 5-7, 6-1.

“Credit to Martin for battling,” a relieved Djokovic said afterward. “Pretty different game in the second set than first. I obviously felt great in the beginning of the match, and the opening service game second set I made two double faults and got him into the match, and I didn’t find a way to finish in straight sets.”

Djokovic said that although he was “very frustrated,” he never panicked.

“I’ve been in this situation many times in my career, and the experience definitely helps to regroup, to find a way,” he said. “It’s difficult to play from the first point to last the way I played the first set.’’

Williams, a seven-time champion here, had a much easier time. She needed just 1 hour 21 minutes to disarm Monica Niculescu and her spinning slice forehand 6-3, 6-1.

The match was the first for Williams since she withdrew before the semifinals at Indian Wells, California, last week with an unspecified right knee problem. She appeared unbothered by the injury on Saturday, and won nine of the last 10 games.

“It was a little sore in practice, but it was OK today,” she said.

Williams had played Niculescu at Indian Wells, so she was better prepared for the spinning forehand.

“I knew what to expect,” Williams said. “I still got a little frustrated, but overall I was able to stay calm more than the last time I played her.’’

Williams’ next opponent is 15-year-old American Cici Bellis, who claims she is not intimidated by the 19-time Grand Slam champion.

“We are all in the same tournament, so we are all kind of at this level,” Bellis said. “You can’t really think about who you’re playing. It’s just a ball that’s coming back on the other side of the court. You just have to play your game, and that’s what I’m planning to do.”

Several other Americans also had a good day. Serena’s older sister Venus advanced, beating Samantha Stosur 6-4, 7-6 (7-3). Venus will next play No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Kaia Kanepi 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the first match of the day.

John Isner beat 17-year-old wild card and world No. 1 junior Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-3, 6-4.

“I needed to come out ready to play because he’s a very talented kid, and anything can happen,’’ Isner said.

And Jack Sock got past No. 21 Fabio Fognini 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

The biggest surprise of the day was the ouster of Canadian No. 6 seed Genie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist. She lost 6-0, 7-6 (7-4) to 113th-ranked German qualifier Tatjana Maria. Bouchard had five double-faults and was broken five times.

Bouchard didn’t speak to reporters after, but released this statement through the WTA: “I didn’t really know anything about my opponent. It’s always tough playing someone like that. And her style of play is very consistent. I didn’t really find my way into the court. I was trying to be aggressive, but I was being a little inconsistent as well. She was very solid. That’s how she won.”

As for Djokovic, he is aiming for a fifth title here.

“Hopefully, I can have another great week in Miami,” Djokovic said. “The record I’ve had in the last eight, nine years I have been coming to Miami is really good. Some of my best tennis I have played here in these courts.’’

He is also happy off the court. He got married last year and is the father to 5-month-old son, Stefan.

“Right now I am a complete person and really fulfilled in every aspect of my life,’’ Djokovic said. “I became a husband and father in the last 10 months, and that’s a very important milestone for me that has definitely contributed in a positive way to my tennis, as well.

“I’m not taking things for granted. I am very grateful for the opportunity to play the sport that I love and still fulfill my parental duties and be accomplished as a husband and father. It’s a great place in my life where I am at the moment, and trying to take the best out of it.’’

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