Stadium Court in Key Biscayne usually feels like a pair of comfy, worn-out blue jeans for Novak Djokovic. The world No. 1 has won four titles here and knows his way around the tournament grounds with his eyes closed.
But Tuesday afternoon, his legs felt heavy out there. His mind was off. He was growing more impatient with each lost point and got so frustrated in the first set that he smashed his racket, drawing jeers from the crowd. He raised his arms in apology.
A fourth-round match against 65th-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov wasn’t supposed to be that difficult. Djokovic didn’t expect to find himself down a set and a break.
He said he felt “a big fire” inside, but then, down 4-1 in the second set, facing the possibility of a straight-sets loss, he pulled a world-class escape act. He somehow was able to recall his “serene, controlled’’ state of mind and rally to beat Dolgopolov 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 6-0.
It took him just 22 minutes to win the final set.
Venus Williams wasn’t as fortunate. The three-time tournament champion and Palm Beach Gardens resident cruised in the first set, but wound up losing 0-6, 6-1, 7-5 to Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in Tuesday’s night match. It wasn’t technically an upset, because Williams is ranked No. 16, and Suarez No. 12. But Williams is a fixture here, and many fans were hoping for a Williams sisters final between Venus and Serena.
“Toward the end, just never found the happy medium between being aggressive and putting the ball in the court,” Williams said.
Navarro got a warm reception from the largely Hispanic crowd.
“The crowd is amazing here,” she said. “The weather, too. I feel good here in Miami.”
Djokovic said the weight of fans’ expectations can be a heavy burden.
“Even though I have had a great record in this tournament, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I, as a No. 1 seed, am going to get easily to the finals,” he said. “As soon as I get on the court, especially in the final three, four matches of the tournament, people expect me to win comfortably in straight sets, but it’s much more difficult than it seems.”
It helped Djokovic that Dogolpolov had blisters on both feet taped after the second set and lost 24 of the last 27 points.
Djokovic’s next opponent is Spaniard David Ferrer, who beat Frenchman Giles Simon 7-6 (7-5), 6-0.
Also advancing was two-time tournament champion Andy Murray, who became the ninth active man to win 500 matches by beating Kevin Anderson 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
“To get to 500 is good,” Murray said. “It’s not an easy thing to do at my age. I hope I’ve still got a lot more wins in me.
“There have not been loads of players that have done it. It’s nice I think obviously for me the fact that it happened here, as well. It’s just fitting just because I have spent so much time training here and working to get better and to improve.”
The third-seeded Murray was presented with a giant cake in a postmatch ceremony. He will face unseeded Dominic Thiem of Austria, who beat No. 28 Adrian Mannarino 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-5.
Kei Nishikori of Japan beat Belgian David Goffin 6-1, 6-2 and will move up to No. 4 in the world rankings next week, dropping Rafael Nadal to No. 5.
Tomas Berdych advanced when Gael Monfils retired down 6-3, 3-2 after falling and hurting his hip.
John Isner, the only American man left in the field, outlasted Milos Raonic 6-7 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 42 minutes and ended shortly before 1 a.m. Isner served 22 aces, Raonic 12.
On the women’s side, free-spirited German Andrea Petkovic breezed past Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-2 and advanced to the semifinals, where she plays Navarro.
Petkovic also reached the semis in 2011 before losing to Maria Sharapova. It was during that run that “Petko“ developed a cult following with her charismatic personality and postmatch dances. This is a woman who plays the drums, loves politics, hates Valentine’s Day, reads Goethe and David Foster Wallace, and has become a You Tube sensation with her video blog of her alter ego, “Petkorazzi.”
Petkovic said the Miami vibe agrees with her.
“The thing with Miami for me is that I’m naturally a very uptight person when it comes to my job,” Petkovic said. “I’m just a very stiff German [smiling]. In my personal life I’m total opposite. But in my job I’m very straight forward and disciplined, that with that comes a lot of tightness. Miami kind of relaxes me.
“I don’t know, maybe because it’s kind of crazy and chaotic. These two opposites, they sort of mesh into a balance that’s good for me. Miami’s good for my mood. Maybe I should move here.’’
Tomas Berdych (8), Czech Republic, def. Gael Monfils (17), France, 6-3, 3-2, retired; Dominic Thiem, Austria, def. Adrian Mannarino (28), France, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-5; Andy Murray (3), Britain, def. Kevin Anderson (15), South Africa, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; David Ferrer (6), Spain, def. Gilles Simon (12), France, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0; Juan Monaco, Argentina, def. Fernando Verdasco (29), Spain, 6-3, 6-3; Kei Nishikori (4), Japan, def. David Goffin (18), Belgium, 6-1, 6-2; Novak Djokovic (1), Serbia, def. Alexandr Dolgopolov, Ukraine, 6-7 (7-3), 7-5, 6-0.
Andrea Petkovic (9), Germany, def. Karolina Pliskova (14), Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-2; Carla Suarez Navarro (12), Spain, def. Venus Williams (16), United States, 0-6, 6-1, 7-5.
10:50 a.m.: Caroline Garcia, France, and Katarina Srebotnik, Slovakia vs. Ekaterina Makerova, Russia, and Elena Vesnina, Russia. 1 p.m.: Serena Williams, U.S., vs. Sabine Lisicki, Germany. Not before 3 p.m.: Dominic Thiem, Austria, vs. Kevin Anderson, Russia, or Andy Murray, Great Britain. 7 p.m.: Simona Halep, Romania, vs. Sloane Stephens, U.S. Not before 9 p.m.: Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic, vs. Juan Monaco, Argentina.
2 p.m.: Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, Czech Republic, vs. Monica Niculescu, Romania, or Su-Wei Hsieh, Taipei and Alexandra Panova, Russia, or Flavia Pennetta, Italy. Not before 4:15 p.m.: Jean-Julien Rojer, Netherlands, and Horia Tecau, Romania, vs. John Isner and Sam Querrey, U.S. Not before 5 p.m.: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, U.S., vs. Kevin Anderson, Russia, and Jeremy Chardy, France.