INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Novak Djokovic and Victor Hanescu walked into the main stadium here on Sunday night looking like brothers in all-black. From their hair to their clothes—and down to Djokovic’s socks—they were dressed in what has come to be tennis’ version of evening wear. For the first 12 games, they were virtually identical as players, too.
If anything, Hanescu, a grim 32-year-old from Romania, was the better player in the first set. He earned five break points and allowed Djokovic none, while an untidy Novak committed 18 errors against 12 winners. Serving at 5-6, Djokovic got even shakier, going down 15-40 before tightening back up, saving both set points, and holding serve. He was cleaner still in the tiebreaker, which he won by an error-free score of 7-1. Hanescu, after staying so solid through the first set, lost the tactical plot in the end. At 1-2, he gave up the first mini-break of the tiebreaker with a baffling attempt at a drop shot that barely reached the net.
Hanescu wasn’t the same after that drop, and neither was Djokovic. The Serb held at love to start the second, and in the next game Hanescu essentially broke himself by flipping an easy forehand pass long at 30-40. Djokovic missed a couple of backhands long at 3-1, but erased his mistake with an ace at game point. Three games later, he closed the match with a big forehand return on his fourth match point, for a 7-6(1), 6-2 win.
Despite the straight-set result, Djokovic wasn’t pleased with his play.
“It’s one of those days,” he said, “where you get to serve well and everything else is just kind of trying to find the way to, you know, play the right shots at the right time. I didn’t make any returns in the first set....It’s the first match and it takes a little bit of time to get used to the center court.”
But a win is a win, and a 550th career win is a 550th career win. Djokovic's next match will be against Alejandro Gonzalez, a Colombian ranked No. 91. All in all, it wasn't a bad day for Novak—while he won, three other high seeds in his half, Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, made their exits. Djokovic says he's going to work on his game, but something less than his best might still get him to the final here.