Novak Djokovic came out looking like Darth Vader, donning an all-black Tacchini outfit, a buzz cut and scowling at the Miami moon. His opponent, Marcos Baghdatis, had never beaten Djokovic before in six outings, but had taken a set off the world No. 1 in their last five encounters. Tonight, in a Sony Ericsson second-round encounter, Baghdatis had two break point chances in the seven deuce, 16-minute, eighth game of the second set, but squandered both opportunities, and Djokovic eked out a 6-4, 6-4 win.
After a blistering first set, where there were many high-speed, athletic long rallies, both players had trouble finding the court in the second set with their forehands. Unofficially, Djokovic hit 10 unforced errors in the second set. Several came in that rocky eighth game when Djokovic looked uptight and pulled up precipitously on many forehands that found the net. Maybe the Serb knew of the Cypriot's reputation as a big-match player who has beaten two reigning No. 1's — Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — on American hard courts in his career. But both of those victories, the only wins he's had against Federer and Nadal, came in Masters Series events in 2010. Since then,
Baghdatis has slid about 20 spots in the rankings to his current pedestrian level of No. 42.
As uneven as the Serb was in the second set, he was efficient in the first set. He dropped only two points in five service games and broke the 26-year-old Baghdatis at 2-all when he struck suddenly at 15-30 with a backhand return-of-serve winner, and the combination of a deft forehand drop volley followed by a backhand lob volley winner. Baghdatis also threw in a double fault. Shots were rocketing off both men's racquets with Djokovic's ground strokes clocked at 78 miles per hour and Baghdatis' at 74.
Djokovic broke at love at 1-all in the second set with a sterling effort on a forehand slice approach shot followed by a backhand stab volley that Baghdatis poked into the net with a forehand volley. At 1-2, 30-all, Bagdhatis appeared to get a bad call from chair umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, when a Djokovic backhand was initially called out by the lines woman and then corrected. Instead of replaying the point, Lahyani ruled that the out call had not interfered with Bagdhatis' next shot that he hit into the net. After fighting off two break points in the eighth game, Djokovic found his forehand in the final game and was quite pumped up at the end to come away with
the victory. He turned and shouted up to his entourage in the stands and pounded his heart with his hand.
Next up for Djokovic, is his countryman, Viktor Troicki, who's only win against the world No. 1 in 11 matches, came back in 2007 on clay.
Dan Markowitz is writing a book about the 2012 season titled "Chasing The GOAT: Roger, Rafa & Nole"