Novak Djokovic has made it through to the fourth round of Indian Wells. The Serbian beat Alejandro Gonzalez 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 to make the last sixteen in the Californian desert for the eighth consecutive season. But the Serbian did not have it all his own way as his 91st ranked opponent made him fight all the way.
The match started comfortably enough for the world no. 2. Djokovic held serve and then had two break points at 15-40 on the Gonzalez serve. He could not take them though as Gonzalez stayed steady at the baseline, out-slugging Djokovic. And when Gonzalez was not getting the better of Djokovic, the Serbian was doing it for him, hitting uncharacteristic errors. It was not until his fifth break point that Djokovic found some inspiration, moving forward to the net and hitting a back hand volley winner. The Serbian then won his service game to love, a sign of the patchy performance to come. Djokovic broke a further two times in the set to take it 6-1.
Djokovic again had chances early in the second, holding break points at 1-1, 15-40, but could not capitalize. Shaking his head as a backhand down the line return, one of his weapons, went long, Djokovic looked out of sorts. Gonzalez, meanwhile, was on top of his game, breaking Djokovic at 4-3 as the Serbian’s unforced errors mounted, a forehand into the net handing Gonzalez the break. Serving for the set at 5-3, Gonzalez a challenger tour regular who had not won a match at an ATP event this year until Indian Wells, kept his own errors down, and took the set 6-3 with an ace.
Whether or not Djokovic would make it through to the fourth round was now in the balance. Luckily for Djokovic, few men have better balance on the tour than he does. He picked himself up after his second set stumble, steadied himself and broke Gonzalez at 1-0, a hefty tussle of a game going to several deuces in which both men had game points. Taking the early break boosted Djokovic’s spirit and deflated Gonzalez’s. The Colombian would win only one game in the third set as Djokovic took it 6-1 and the match.
With Rafael Nadal’s departure two nights back, Djokovic has a big opportunity. The Spaniard will lose 900 ranking points, while Djokovic, who went out in the semi-finals last year, can gain ground should he win the tournament. His chances of that certainly increase with Nadal out of the final equation, too. Nadal got the better of Djokovic in the final of the US Open and the semis in Montreal on outdoor hard. And with the surface at Indian Wells described by some critics as blue clay, Nadal’s chances of beating Djokovic in the final were high.
Djokovic’s struggle through to the fourth round will come as good news to his next opponent, Marin Cilic. The Croatian is on a roll recently, going 16-1 since the beginning of February. The two men will contest the night match at Indian Wells this evening. It could be, if the last couple of days have been anything to go by, another epic match in a thrilling first few rounds.