Grigor Dimitrov stunned Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Madrid Open on Tuesday, beating the world No. 1 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (8/10), 6-3 for the biggest win of his career.
The 28th-ranked Bulgarian saved three set points in the first before taking the lead and Djokovic then appeared to hurt his right ankle when trailing 4-2 in the second. The Serb slipped on the baseline and winced in pain, then immediately called for a trainer and took a lengthy break to get treatment.
The wait for the game to resume annoyed the crowd, who turned against Djokovic and began chanting Dimitrov’s name.
“I seriously didn’t expect that,” the 21-year-old Bulgarian said. “That was the one thing that of course cheered me up a lot.”
Djokovic said the loss had more to do with poor preparation than an injury.
“I didn’t prepare myself so good,” Djokovic said. “For 12 days after Monte Carlo I haven’t touched the racket.”
Djokovic said he did not understand why the crowd turned against him during the injury break.
“I don’t see any reason for that. I didn’t do anything bad,” he said.
The crowd then displayed sympathy for Dimitrov when he appeared to suffer from cramp at 5-5 with the game at deuce, visibly upsetting the Serb.
Dimitrov, who suffered severe cramp last year at Roland Garros, said it did not affect him as badly this time.
“Today, I was better, I was not crawling,” Dimitrov said.
Earlier, defending champion Roger Federer looked comfortable on clay in his first match in two months, easing past Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3 to reach the third round.
The second-ranked Federer took a break after losing in the Indian Wells quarter-finals to Nadal, but instantly took to the clay and broke early to take control of the first set. He then broke Stepanek three times in the second, losing his own serve once, to finish the win in 1 hour, 21 minutes.
“I’m very happy, because he has caused me difficulties in the past,” Federer said about the 34-year-old Stepanek — who these days is one of the few players on the ATP Tour older than the Swiss star.
Federer can equal John McEnroe’s career tally of 77 titles if he defends the Madrid trophy, having won last year on the heavily criticized blue clay that organizers decided to get rid of this year.
Like many of his fellow players, Federer said the traditional red surface is better.
“They [the organizers] spoke to more experts from the French Open and Monaco, and you can tell it’s a proper clay court now,” Federer said, adding that Madrid had issues with its courts even before switching to a blue surface.
Third seed Andy Murray had a tougher time against Florian Mayer, before outlasting the German 7-6 (13/11), 7-6 (7/3).
Murray said he struggled with the altitude and found it hard to breathe at the end of the first set where “there were so many long points.”
Madrid is 660m above sea level.
The Scotsman said Mayer’s array of shots also made it difficult by varying the pace constantly.
“It’s hard to explain, but if you’re playing someone that plays with a nice rhythm it’s a lot easier to breathe during the points,” Murray said.
World No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and No. 13 Tommy Haas of Germany were among other seeded players to advance, while No. 8 Richard Gasquet of France lost 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 to Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain.
In the women’s singles, defending champion Serena Williams moved her title defense into the third round after beating Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain 6-2, 7-5.
World No. 1 Williams struggled a bit to counter her opponent’s drop-shots and lobs, but stayed on course for a fourth title of the year and the 50th of her career.
“It was a really good clay-court tennis match for me,” Williams said.
World No. 2 Maria Sharapova eased past 21-year-old Christina McHale of the US 6-1, 6-2.
“When you start so late it’s important to make sure you’re ready and awake, and focused from the beginning of the match,” Sharapova said. “I did a good job in that today.”
Also on Tuesday, Marion Bartoli of France overcame a fall to beat qualifier Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
In the first round of the women’s doubles, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Peng Shuai of China were defeated by Spanish duo Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 10-8.
Additional reporting by staff writer