Tennis

Novak Djokovic advances, No. 5 Simona Halep upset at Miami Open

Novak Djokovic, who has won five Miami Opens, defeated up-and-comer Dominic Thiem in straight sets Tuesday to advance to the quarterfinals.
Novak Djokovic, who has won five Miami Opens, defeated up-and-comer Dominic Thiem in straight sets Tuesday to advance to the quarterfinals. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

About the only sure thing left at the Miami Open — at least until Wednesday —is world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

But even the sure thing needed four match points to finally put away fiery, hard-hitting No. 14 Dominic Thiem, an up-and-coming Austrian who finally fell 6-3, 6-4 after converting just one of 15 break points.

“It was going to end sooner or later,” said Djokovic, who will face No. 7 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in a 9 p.m. Wednesday quarterfinal on Stadium Court. “I had some luck in that last game where he missed a couple of easy forehands to get the break back and get back into the match. But I stayed tough when it was most needed.

“It was a straight set win but it was far from easy.”

World No. 5 Simona Halep of Romania wasn’t as fortunate, as she became yet another star to fall in the tournament when 20th-ranked Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland emerged as the tournament’s first semifinalist with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Bacsinszky’s win came a day after she defeated world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska. Not a bad two days’ work.

“The ranking is only a number,” said Bacsinszky, 26, who was set to meet the winner of Tuesday night’s quarterfinal between Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ekaterina Makarova in a Thursday semifinal.

“Sometimes you can play very good, better than your ranking and sometime less good than your ranking. Obviously, for sure it gives me a big confidence to have those two wins but it doesn’t change that I’m going to have a fierce opponent and it’s going to be really tough.

“I’m never satisfied. That’s why I’m working so hard every day. I believe that we can all be limitless if we don’t set ourselves limits. You’re probably going to see me around in the next years as well because I love what I do.’’

Halep said by the beginning of the second set she already felt the heat and humidity on a day in which the sky turned a menacing dark gray, thunder rumbled and a few fleeting raindrops fell.

“She played a good game,” Halep said. “She played smart and she moved really well today. She deserved to win.”

Halep was asked whether her loss Tuesday was more disappointing knowing that Serena had been knocked out of the tournament on Monday and she wouldn’t have had to face her in a semifinal.

“Not everything means Serena in tournaments,” she said. “As you see I didn’t lose to Serena today. I lost to another player. Every player is playing well at this level and we have to be ready every day.”

Djokovic, as usual, was ready.

Despite double-faulting nine times — the most double faults by Djokovic in a best-of-three-set match since losing in the second round at Miami in 2010 — the five-time Miami winner survived to fight another day. Thiem, 22, is considered to be one of the top young challengers to Djokovic’s dominance.

“He has very powerful strokes in back of the court so he either makes some really amazing shots down the line mostly and some great inside-out forehands, or he makes some mistakes,” Djokovic said. “It’s kind of a gamble playing with him.

“It is exciting because tennis definitely needs the next generation of young players who are playing the way Dominic does and challenging the best players in the world. It’s a normal evolution in life that sooner or later the time will come for all of us, and then we need some new faces and players that are able to lead the tennis world in the future.”

A dejected Thiem was not as philosophic.

“Today I didn’t play bad at all,” he said, “just not my best. Many good points, many bad points. One out of 15 break points. I mean like half of them he saved were incredible. But for sure there were five, six break points I have to make.”

Asked about the last game in which he crushed the ball repeatedly and saved three match points, Thiem talked about his “stupid mistakes” on the break points.

“It was a little bit like the whole match, too many unforced errors and then incredible winners and really good points again. Yeah, the last game was a little bit like the whole match, lots of ups and downs.”

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