Former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, back on tour after elbow troubles, continues to struggle. He was knocked out the Miami Open in the second round Friday afternoon, 6-3, 6-4 by Benoit Paire, the unseeded 47th-ranked player from France.
Djokovic is a six-time Miami Open champion. He had won 16 matches in a row on Key Biscayne, and swept the titles here in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before missing last year’s tournament with a right elbow injury.
“I am trying everything I can, but it is what it is,” Djokovic said. “I’m not at the level I used to be, I’m aware of that. I believe in myself and hopefully, it will come...I wanted to come to Indian Wells and Miami to see that I can play some matches. I love playing on hard courts and wanted to get a few matches in before the clay season starts, but I guess I wasn’t ready for that.”
The other major headline from Friday’s day session was the end of Naomi Osaka’s remarkable run. Two days after ousting her idol Serena Williams, she lost 6-4, 6-2 to Elina Svitolina.
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When you’re the fourth-ranked player in the world, you expect to have a fairly routine opening match in the first week of a tournament.
So, imagine Svitolina’s reaction when she looked at the Miami Open draw and saw that her second-round opponent Friday would be either 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams or 22nd-ranked Osaka, the rising star coming off her first big trophy at Indian Wells, California.
Although both players were unseeded — Williams because she was returning from maternity leave, Osaka because her success is recent – they were hardly unknown.
Osaka ousted Williams on Wednesday, and appeared to be on another Cinderella run, but Svitolina brought the young Haitian-American-Japanese player down to earth with a straight-sets victory that lasted a little over an hour.
“I was like, `Okay, this is going to be challenging’,’’ Svitolina said. “For a second round, normally you don't get those kind of matches. It was actually quite exciting. I like to go into the tournaments with little bit of stress. Then you're straight into the matches. Of course, not these kind of players. It was a little bit too much because just winning Indian Wells, (Osaka) was pretty confident. Serena, obviously, we all know who she is, what she has behind her shoulders.
“I'm very happy the way I handled this match today.”
Svitolina, of Ukraine, remained calm and conquered swirling winds and Osaka’s power. Osaka had 31 unforced errors, while Svitolina committed only 13. Svitolina had beaten Osaka last month in Dubai, before the 20-year-old embarked on an eight-match win streak that included victories over Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and, on Wednesday, Williams.
“I always knew that she can produce a great game, and that I have to be always on my toes, have to be ready for her strong shots, for her strong serve,” Svitolina said. “I was just trying to don't give her any opportunities.”
Osaka said she felt sick during Friday’s warmups and never felt right during the match. Asked what symptoms she had, she said: “Like I need to throw up a lot.”
Despite the loss, Osaka said she learned a lot during the past few weeks.
“I think I've played more matches than I ever have back-to-back,” she said. “I didn't really feel that tired, so that's a good thing. And I've played so many good players, and I've experienced a lot of new things, so I'm really happy about that. I think that's the biggest thing.”
She said the highlight, without question, was her win over Williams, her idol. After her victory, she Tweeted a photo of their handshake at the net with a three-letter, succinct reaction: “omg”
“Of course, winning the [Indian Wells] final was really cool, but I've always dreamed of playing Serena, so I think that's my No. 1,” Osaka said.