Novak Djokovic's 2014 season hasn't gotten off to the type of start the the No. 2 tennis player in the world would have liked.
Djokovic coasted through the early rounds of play at the Australian Open back in January, but he ultimately faltered in the quarterfinals against Stanislas Wawrinka. The Serb then coasted through the early rounds of the Dubai Tennis Championships before running into Roger Federer in the semifinals.
The match leaned Djokovic's way after one set, but Federer came back to win the final two sets and the match. Just like that, Djokovic had begun the year winless.
Three rounds have been completed at the BNP Paribas Open, and Djokovic is on his way to a fourth-round match against Croatian Marin Cilic. Getting to this fourth round was pretty easy.
Djokovic squared off against Alejandro Gonzalez in the third round, an opponent he had never even seen play before. The Colombian won the second set, 6-3, but Djokovic finished strong in the first and third sets to earn the win.
On seeing Gonzalez play for the first time, Djokovic told ESPN.com that he thinks it is good for the sport:
It took me a little bit to get used to it. You've got new faces and new players who are able to challenge the top guys, and this is good for the sport. It also makes us work harder and improve trying to get our game to a high level because the guys are coming up.
Djokovic, having defeated the surprise contender in the third round, will now be looking to add another title at Indian Wells to his trophy case. He's a two-time winner at the event, and this is exactly the type of situation he needs to get back to the top.
Sure, it's been a pretty poor year for Djokovic so far. Through two prior events, he had yet to even make a final. Now, he's in good position to do so.
Defeating a player that he had never watched play before speaks to the level that Djokovic is on right now. Yes, Gonzalez is far less experienced and not as talented a player, but Djokovic easily could have looked flustered and played poorly.
Instead, he dropped just the middle set.
Via ESPN.com, Djokovic actually chalked that loss in the middle set up to a lack of concentration:
I just had a big loss of concentration and allowed him to win the second set for no reason. Bounced back better in the third, but I obviously cannot allow myself to have these particular concentration lapses in the match at this level.
Defeating Cilic in the fourth round and then progressing from there through the latter rounds of the tournament would show that Djokovic is back on track. The lack of concentration is a small cause for concern, but not enough to take him out of the picture for the finals.
As the No. 2 player in the world, Djokovic needs to start stringing together a few tournament wins. At the very least, he'll need to reach a few finals in future tournaments. If he keeps losing in the quarters and semis, then he won't be No. 2 for very long.
A win at Indian Wells would be just enough to jumpstart his 2014 season.
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