Novak Djokovic is a tennis-playing machine almost everywhere he takes the court, and that is no different in Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open. He once again looked the part of overpowering force at times Tuesday with a straight-sets victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-5, 7-5, but his opponent challenged him near the end.
Djokovic had a 5-2 lead in the second set and lost three straight games before finding a way to win the final two.
Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine reflected on the match:
It was still business as usual for the world's No. 1-ranked player at Indian Wells. According to ATPWorldTour.com, he has four tournament championships, including the past two, on his BNP Paribas Open resume and hasn't lost in the event since the semifinals in 2013. If he wins another championship this year, he will become the first player to own five titles in the event.
He only tallied a single ace Tuesday, but did manage to win 70 percent of his first-service points and four of six break points, per BNPParibasOpen.com.
Despite Djokovic's status as the clear favorite, Kohlschreiber hung with him throughout the first set. He earned a critical early break to make it 4-3 with an impressive backhand, via TennisTV:
Writer Juan Jose Vallejo weighed in on how difficult it would be to keep that up throughout the match:
With the first set tied at five games apiece, Djokovic proved why he is the best in the world with this shot to move within a game of the first set, via TennisTV:
Djokovic parlayed the momentum from the shot into a 7-5 first-set victory, and TennisTV shared the stats. His advantage on first-serve points won proved critical:
The two competitors remained on serve with little separation once again in the first few games of the second set, but Djokovic finally notched a clutch break to move ahead, 4-2. Just like that, the defending champion seized his momentum to hold serve and was a single game away from the match victory.
It wasn't so easy, though, as the Serbian star missed out on four match points. As mentioned, Kohlschreiber tied the second set at five games apiece, and Live Tennis captured the differences in facial expressions:
It felt like Djokovic was losing his grip on the set, but Vallejo gave his opponent some credit:
However, as the greats are capable of doing, Djokovic turned it on during the final two games and clinched the 7-5 victory in the second set. It took two grueling 7-5 battles, but he advanced with the straight-sets win and now knows he can grind for the difficult points in this tournament as it moves to the latter stages.
Djokovic will square off with Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round following Tuesday's win.
Lopez needed a full three sets to knock off Roberto Bautista Agut in his third-round match, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 and certainly faces a much more daunting task against Djokovic. The defending BNP Paribas Open champion holds a dominant 7-1 advantage in head-to-head matches against Lopez, per ATPWorldTour.com.
However, Lopez actually won the last showdown between the two in Dubai but only because Djokovic retired. Lopez is yet to knock off the world’s No. 1 when Djokovic stays healthy, and there is little reason to think that will change given the Serbian’s dominance in Indian Wells and his performance on Tuesday.
Djokovic will likely have the talent and mental advantage with that head-to-head record looming over the upcoming match.
Djokovic earned the win in perhaps a more difficult battle than many expected, but he was already looking to build on his efforts after the match. He said, per the BNP Paribas Open, "There are a lot of positives I can take. It’s about getting things going in the moment."
He proved he can get things going in the moment when he bounced back from his missed match points. If he continues to do that in the most important games and points of the latter rounds, he will earn his fifth title at Indian Wells.
*Stats courtesy of BNPParibasOpen.com.