ATP Indian Wells: Taro Daniel stuns resurgent Novak Djokovic in three sets

Taro Daniel was clinical in his play as he defeated the 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, adding onto the Serbian's struggles.

Taro Daniel
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Novak Djokovic

Taro Daniel unexpectedly earned the biggest win of his career, and his first over a top-20 player as the Japanese produced an excellent display of controlled aggression to defeat former world number one Novak Djokovic in the second round of the 2018 BNP Paribas Open, triumphing with a 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 scoreline having come from 2-5 down in the first set.

Djokovic’s hard work to return from an elbow surgery was undone by 61 unforced errors in the 150-minute contest as Daniel was just too rock solid, making just 31 errors to reach the third round where he would face Leonardo Mayer.

Taro Daniel celebrates earning the biggest victory of her career after triumphing on match point | Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images North America
Taro Daniel celebrates earning the biggest victory of her career after triumphing on match point | Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images North America

Daniel stuns Djokovic and steals the first set in a tiebreak

Returning from a lingering elbow injury, Djokovic looked relatively fresh and had a great start to his campaign with a love service hold in the opening game. Daniel faced some troubles with his vulnerable second serves being exploited by the Serbian, who is labeled as the best returner on the tour, but was still able to get on board eventually. However, a surge of adrenaline saw Djokovic go on a ruthless run, claiming eight consecutive points to earn a commanding 4-1 lead.

Novak Djokovic would rue his missed opportunities in the opening set, having wasted a 5-2 lead and a set point | Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images North America
Novak Djokovic would rue his missed opportunities in the opening set, having wasted a 5-2 lead and a set point | Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images North America

Losing just two points on serve throughout four service games, Djokovic looked unstoppable while jumping out to a 5-2 advantage, being just a game away from winning the opening set. He earned a set point but Daniel showed some tough resistance as the former world number one started losing patience, going for the risky shots which ultimately backfired.

Three consecutive games came and went for the Serbian as Daniel impressively leveled the scores despite how slim his hope was. The set was brought into a tiebreak where Daniel rattled off four consecutive points from 0-1 down, and he never looked back as the erratic Djokovic sent yet another forehand into the net to gift Daniel the first set after an hour of play.

Taro Daniel put in an excellent performance, retrieving almost every ball possible | Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images North America
Taro Daniel put in an excellent performance, retrieving almost every ball possible | Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images North America

Djokovic fights back and sends the match to the distance

Djokovic finally raised his level and was more consistent in his service games, ensuring that Daniel does not run away with the match. The Japanese looked in great form and was retrieving everything back while the Serbian grew increasingly frustrated as the match progressed. The first breakthrough in the second set finally arrived upon us in the seventh game, with Djokovic coming up with the goods on the return as the world number 13 soon jumped out to a commanding 5-3 lead.

There was a sense of déjà vu as Daniel came back from a dangerous 0-30 deficit while serving to stay in the set, keeping him in contention. Furthermore, Djokovic totally lost the plot on his groundstrokes, producing error after error. This gifted the Japanese two break points just when it mattered, but some impressive shotmaking saw the Serbian finally closing out the set, taking it 6-4 after 51 minutes.

Daniel strolls through the deciding set

Djokovic continued to ride on his momentum and earned multiple break points in the opening game of the final set, but his errors once again proved costly as he failed to convert his opportunities, allowing Daniel to grab the confidence-boosting hold. However, the former Indian Wells champion also had to eke out a tough game to get on board, with neither being able to catch a break.

Novak Djokovic was gracious in defeat and had a warm exchange with Taro Daniel at the net | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America
Novak Djokovic was gracious in defeat and had a warm exchange with Taro Daniel at the net | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America

However, from there on, it was one-way traffic surprisingly to the underdog as the Japanese got his motive: extending the rallies as long as possible and outlasting his opponent. Djokovic lost the rhythm in his game and his shots were spraying everywhere, and Daniel looked in red-hot form as he ended the match by claiming 20 of the last 27 points, stunning the world for the biggest win of his career.