Djokovic Smacks Up Victory In Indian Wells Comeback

Five years after making his previous appearance at the ATP-WTA Indian Wells Masters, Novak Djokovic battled his way to a victory on Saturday, defeating Aleksandar Vukic 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.

The top-seeded Djokovic is going for his sixth championship at the desert venue in the first Masters event of the season. The Serbian had not played since losing in the Australian Open semifinal to eventual champion Jannik Sinner in January.

The 36-year-old Serb became the first man to win 400 matches at the elite level, following Rafael Nadal, by winning his 400th career Masters match.

The 24-time Grand Slam champion, who won crowns in Cincinnati and Paris Bercy last season, has won 11 of his past 12 Masters matches.

Djokovic wasn’t the only top player to be tested.

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka saved four match points on the way to her 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) second-round victory over 64th-ranked Peyton Stearns, and US Open champion Coco Gauff rallied in the final set to beat France’s Clara Burel 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).

Djokovic admitted to some nerves in his first match since Melbourne. He claimed the opening set in 35 minutes with two service breaks but had to come from a break down in the third against his 69th-ranked Australian opponent.

Vukic held for 6-5 in the second set and landed a reflex service return winner on the line to square the match at a set each.

In the third, top seed Djokovic broke for a 3-2 edge and closed out victory with a second break after just over two hours, notching his 51st win at the tournament where he first competed in 2006.

“I was a bit nervous at the beginning, you know, whether I’m going to start off well,” Djokovic said. “I had not played a match in more than five weeks.

“He made me produce some really important points in games in order to prevail. “I’m glad that I was pushed, which is important.”

Women’s world number two Sabalenka had an even tougher time against Stearns. After saving four match points she needed four of her own and rolled an ankle along the way.

“This match definitely goes into the book of craziest and the best matches of my career,” she said.

“She played incredible tennis. I kept telling myself, ‘Stay there, fight for every point. You never know what’s going to happen.

In the women’s tournament, Naomi Osaka continued her comeback after a maternity break with a 7-5, 6-3 victory. Jessica Pegula, the fifth seed, was upset by Anna Blinkova, who avenged a loss to Pegula in San Diego earlier in the month.

Daniil Medvedev, last year’s runner-up, cruised to a victory, while Taylor Fritz, the defending champion, also advanced. In the men’s tournament, former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic of Canada withdrew from his match

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