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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, March 9, 2024


Playing his first Indian Wells match in five years, Novak Djokovic edged Aleksandar Vukic 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 to post his 400th career Masters 1000 win.

Photo credit: Joe Scarnici/Getty

The crocodile on his shirt was soaked in sweat and Novak Djokovic’s sneakers squealed like a getaway car as he slid into a running forehand.

Playing his first Indian Wells match in five years, Djokovic put in the hard yards realizing a massive Masters moment.

Djokovic: Let's See How Far We Push the Needle

A determined Djokovic defeated a tough Aleksandar Vukic 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in his BNP Paribas Open opener to post his 400th career Masters 1000 win.

"It feels great obviously to come back with the win," Djokovic told the media in Indian Wells. "It's been five years, and, you know, the great feeling is still there. Enjoyed myself very much. Beautiful stadium. Great atmosphere.

"Obviously I was a bit, you know, nervous at the beginning, you know, whether I'm going to start off well. Haven't played a match in more than five weeks. I thought the start was good. Obviously 6-2. Then, you know, I think he upped his game.

"I thought the level of the tennis was pretty good in the third. Great points. He made me, you know, produce some really important points in games in order to prevail in this match.

"I'm glad that I was pushed, as well, which is important. It's always great. You know, looking forward to the next one."

World No. 1 Djokovic joins rival Rafael Nadal (406 wins) as the only men with 400 Masters 1000 victories.

It was Djokovic’s first match since Jannik Sinner snapped his 33-match Australian Open winning streak on January 26th. Sinner shredded Djokovic 6-1, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3 dethroning the defending AO champion to charge into his maiden major final in Melbourne.

Shaking off rust in his first match in six weeks, Djokovic served with both accuracy and ambition for much of this match—he cracked 11 aces against 5 double faults and won 83 percent of his first-serve points—but it was his movement, ball-striking on the run and ultimately his skill stretching the explosive Vukic into running backhand errors that turned the final set in his favor.

Fans in a packed stadium one greeted Djokovic with a rousing ovation and Serbian flags were flying as he launched his quest for a record-extending sixth BNP Paribas open championship.

“Five years passed by quickly,” Djokovic said before the match and he came out looking motivated to make a statement.

Stepping into the court, Djokovic belted a backhand winner down the line backing up the break with his signature shot for 2-0.

Wearing a white baseball cap to ward off the sun, Djokovic stung a serve to save break point, eventually holding for 3-1.

Vukic was dancing backward when he stopped to smack a diagonal forehand winner to seal the fifth game.

Though Vukic was serving in the 125 mph range, Djokovic was picking off returns. Spinning a forehand return winner down the line helped the top seed score a second break for 5-2.

Six weeks since his last match, Djokovic’s serve looked right at home.

Slashing successive aces down the T, Djokovic closed the 34-minute opening set with big bolts.

Sliding into a slick forehand strike down the line, Vukic gained double break point in the second game of set two. Djokovic denied both break points, but narrowly missed the backhand down the line to drop serve as Vukic leapt ahead 2-0.

Resetting, Djokovic came right back to earn triple break point. The top seed was in prime position for a smash but badly bungled it into net. Vukic took that gift and erased all three break points. The world No. 69 won five points in a row edging ahead 3-0.

Looking fit and moving fluidly, Djokovic applied versatility to get the break back.

Playing a clever lob over Vukic’s backhand wing brought him break point. Attacking a second serve, Djokovic dabbed a dazzling forehand drop volley winner to break back for 2-3. Djokovic held at 15 to level after six games.

Rapping a series of heavy forehands helped Vukic stamp a solid hold for 6-5.

Down love-30, Djokovic landed his 11th ace off the center stripe. Vukic was unerring and Djokovic felt the stress netting his 12th error of the set to face double-set point.

On the second set point, Djokovic again drilled a biting 123 mph serve down the T. Vukic stuck out his racquet and reflexed back a forehand return winner, raising his eyebrows as if surprised himself, to snatch the second set. Vukic forced a decider after 90 minutes.

Gulping a deep breath, Djokovic walked to his court-side seat knowing he had lost three of his last four BNP Paribas Open matches and looking determined to produce positive outcome.

Jamming a return into the body, Djokovic gained break point in the third game, but Vukic erased it with a forehand winner. Vukic snapped his ninth ace for 2-1.

Crackling rallies developed in the decider. Djokovic smacked a couple of forehand drives down the line for double break point in the fifth game.

Hammering a forehand into the Aussie’s backhand corner, Djokovic drew netted reply breaking for 3-2 after one hour, 54 minutes of play.

Clubbing a crosscourt forehand brought Djokovic double match points.

Pulling the string on a drop shot to drag his opponent forward, Djokovic lofted a lob that a leaping Vukic could not control.

It was a high-quality match that ended with Djokovic appearing to offer Vukic words of praise in a warm exchange at net after a two hour, 10-minute triumph.

"I know I can always produce better tennis. Obviously very self-critical, and I think some extent it's also important because then it puts you in the right mindset of wanting to work more and being engaged in the process of improving on a daily basis, or trying to perfect your game and right the wrongs that you've done in a previous match or previous practice session," Djokovic said. "So that's what I'm going to keep doing and hopefully building my game as this tournament is played over 10 to 14 days, so it allows you to have the practice days also between matches, which then, you know, of course allows you to work on certain specifics in the game.

"I think as the tournament progresses, I believe my game will get better as well, I will feel more confident about myself and my chances to go far in the tournament."


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