Novak Djokovic suffered a shocking loss in Tuesday's second round of the Mutua Madrid Open to No. 28-ranked Grigor Dimitrov. However, it will be only a minor setback in the clay court season for the top-ranked tennis player in the world.
The only leg of the career Grand Slam missing from Djokovic's already decorated résumé is the French Open. Though the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, is only getting healthier, 2013 is the year that Djokovic will finally break through at Roland Garros.
In the match against Dimitrov, Djokovic received treatment on an injured ankle in the middle of the second set. According to BBC tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend, it was the same ankle he hurt last month at the Davis Cup.
This may have been a three-set contest, but it was as grueling as possible. Dimitrov was relentless, batting back a set point down 4-5 in the first before winning 8-6 in a tiebreak, then having the fortitude to bounce back from a 10-8 loss in the second-set tiebreak to close out the deciding set 6-3.
Dimitrov is a supremely talented 21-year-old still attempting to harness his immense potential, and Overend indicates that many believe he has the tools to be a future world No. 1.
Perhaps this was the landmark triumph that Dimitrov needed. His athleticism is obvious, and he has not only the fitness but also the power and finesse to realize his fantastic upside. Check out this winner he hit in the second set:
Losing to a player that far down in the world rankings would seemingly be a red flag for Djokovic. But this was a far more formidable opponent who put everything together at the proper time while The Serbinator wasn't his typical precise, calculated self on the court.
After the match, though, Djokovic did not use the injury as an excuse, and was congratulatory toward Dimitrov for how well he played:
Novak Djokovic @DjokerNole
Leaving Madrid today. Too bad I didn't have more time for sightseeing, but there is always next time. ;) Good match by Dimitrov. Well done2013-5-8 13:36:14
This marked only the third loss compared to 26 wins and three singles titles on the season for Djokovic already, and it was evident that he wasn't quite at 100 percent.
In fact, this defeat may have been a blessing in disguise. Djokovic may not get more valuable reps on clay, but his most recent triumph at the Monte Carlo Masters already gives him a ton of confidence.
The final of that event was against Nadal, whom Djokovic beat with relative ease 6-2, 7-6 (1). Nadal's road to get to the marquee showdown with Djokovic included a hotly contested battle with Dimitrov.
As Sports Illustrated's Bruce Jenkins documented, Nadal had to face Dimitrov in the quarterfinals and was severely tested before Dimitrov suffered from cramps. Nadal, though, said Dimitrov is already a complete player, and that he is "the present and the future."
According to Djokovic's official website, he is slated to play in next week's Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, which will be his final preparation on clay ahead of the year's second Grand Slam event.
This little bit of extra time off ahead of that forthcoming competition—albeit unexpected—should actually enhance Djokovic's preparation for the French Open.
The underrated, positive ramifications of this loss to Dimitrov may finally result in Djokovic notching the last piece he needs for the career Grand Slam—and put him halfway toward that coveted achievement in 2013 alone.