Novak Djokovic passed a tough first test at Indian Wells on Sunday to maintain his perfect record for the season and reach the third round of the year’s first Masters tournament.
The world No. 1 defeated Fabio Fognini 6-0, 5-7, 6-2, the struggles he encountered against the 36th-ranked Italian echoing world No. 3 Andy Murray’s battle to a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over unheralded Russian Evgeny Donskoy.
Djokovic improved to 14-0 this year, but he was kicking himself for letting control of the match slip away in the second set, when he went up an early break, only for Fognini to get back on serve with a break of his own in the seventh game.
“It was definitely a difficult challenge today,” Djokovic said. “Fabio played well towards the end of the second set, but it was all my fault. I had a break for 4-2 up and I played a terrible game. After that, it was very even. It could have gone either way.”
Fognini saved a match point with a service winner in the 10th game of the second set and broke Djokovic in the 11th.
He duly served out the set, and had Djokovic under pressure in the opening game of the third, when the Serbian fended off one break point, then battled through four game points and an irksome time violation before finally holding serve.
From there, Fognini began to fade. Djokovic broke him to lead 3-1 and broke him again to secure the win.
Djokovic said his difficulties had not dented the confidence gained from capturing his fourth Australian Open crown in January, and a fourth ATP Dubai title last week.
“I’m not concerned,” Djokovic said. “I know I have been in this situation before, where I had minor setbacks in a match, especially in the opening matches where I’m trying to get used to the court, the conditions, so forth. In the end, I have done what I needed to do. The ‘W’ is there, so I feel good about myself.”
Murray, playing his first match since falling to Djokovic in the Australian Open final, quickly found himself down 5-1 to Donskoy — ranked 83rd in the world.
Although the slow start raised unwelcome memories of his first-match exits at Indian Wells in each of the past two years, Murray won four straight games to level the set.
However, he was unable to convert any of six break chances in the 11th game and Donskoy broke him for a third time in the 12th game to pocket the set.
However, Murray had found his range and made short work of the second and third sets.
The US Open champion next faces Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun, a 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5) winner over 26th-seeded Slovakian Martin Klizan.
Seventh-seeded Argentine Juan Martin del Potro had little trouble in a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Russian veteran Nikolay Davydenko, but eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France had to fight past determined US wild-card James Blake 7-6 (8/6), 6-4.
Tsonga squandered four set points in the 12th game of the opening set, then had to fight off three set points for Blake in the tiebreaker.
Blake saved two match points against his serve in the ninth game of the second set, before Tsonga closed it out with a love game.
It was a bit of a slog for the top women as well.
Second-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova had to battle back from an early break in each set to earn a 7-5, 6-3 third-round victory over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.
“I thought it was a tough one,” Sharapova said. “She’s a quality player, capable of playing some really good tennis. She’s beaten top players in Grand Slams before and has a really solid game with a lot of variety.”