WASHINGTON: Doubt is a distant memory for Novak Djokovic as the world number one returns to Indian Wells on top of the tennis world, one year after his shock loss to qualifier Taro Daniel.
Djokovic is making his first start since winning his third Grand Slam title on the trot at the Australian Open in January.
He said he wasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery when he opted to compete in the California desert last year, but it’s not a decision he regrets given the events that followed in 2018.
“I definitely wasn’t ready to compete at this level last year,” the Serb said Thursday as he looked forward to his title defense in the elite Masters series event.
“I was kind of convincing myself that I was, but I truly wasn’t.
“I know most of my team members at the time were against me playing in Indian Wells and Miami because it was too early after the surgery.
“I could have, should have made a different decision, but I believe it also taught me some valuable lessons that helped me to create amazing results in the next seven, eight months and get from 22 in the world to No. 1 in the world in less than six months.”
Djokovic would cement his return with a Wimbledon title and follow that with a US Open crown.
He dominated Rafael Nadal in January’s Australian Open title and must be favored for a sixth Indian Wells crown — which would see him break the record he currently shares with fourth-seeded Roger Federer.
Djokovic will open in the second round against 128th-ranked American Bjorn Fratangelo, who beat fellow qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
He could face a dangerous third-round clash with Australian Nick Kyrgios, seeded 31st, who is coming off his first title in more than a year in Acapulco last week.
Kyrgios will take on Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round after the German veteran dispatched France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 6-0.
Sri Lanka’s Malinga to retire after Twenty20 World Cup
CENTURION: Sri Lankan limited overs captain Lasith Malinga will retire from international cricket after next year’s Twenty20 World Cup, he revealed on Saturday.
Malinga said that he would quit one-day internationals after the World Cup in England and Wales this summer before calling time on his career following the Twenty20 tournament, being played in Australia over October-November 2020.
“After the World Cup, my cricketing career is ending,” the 35-year-old said after his his side were beaten by 16 runs by South Africa in the second Twenty20 international at SuperSport Park.
“I want to play in the T20 World Cup and then end my career.”
Malinga dismissed South African top-scorer Reeza Hendricks for 65 on Friday, his 97th T20 international wicket. He is one short of the world record of 98 held by Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi.
Djokovic, Osaka win Miami openers as Thiem tumbles
MIAMI: Novak Djokovic put his Indian Wells disappointment behind him on Friday at the ATP and WTA Miami Open with a ruthless 7-6 (7/2) 6-2 destruction of Australian Bernard Tomic to move into the third round.
The Serbian world number one endured a meek exit at the hands of German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the California desert but arrived desperate to land what would be a record seventh title in South Florida.
Tomic, the current world No. 81, gave the 31-year-old a few problems yet the Australian struggles to consistently challenge the best players and this was evident once again as Djokovic eased through the gears at Hard Rock Stadium with just one hour and 13 minutes on the clock.
“In Indian Wells I wasn’t feeling my best,” conceded Djokovic who won 81% of points on his first serve and hit 11 aces.
“Everyone has nerves coming onto center court regardless of how much experience you have and what your ranking is. You care about it and if you are nervous that means you care.
“I commonly feel like that. This was my first time playing at this new stadium, it felt like being indoor a little bit. It’s unique.
“Now hopefully,” he added, “I can build some momentum.”
On a day that saw Djokovic, top-ranked woman Naomi Osaka and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams advance, the shock of the day was the departure of Indian Wells Masters winner Dominic Thiem, who was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by highly rated Polish 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz.
Elsewhere, there was disappointment for Kei Nishikori. The fifth seed lost to Serbian Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 but reigning champion John Isner outlasted Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (7/2), 7-6, (9/7).
Japanese star Osaka had to keep her emotions in check as she opened her campaign by outlasting Yanina Wickmayer 6-0, 6-7 (3/7), 6-1.
Since winning her second consecutive Grand Slam title in January at the Australian Open, Osaka has failed to go deep in Dubai or Indian Wells.
But she appeared in solid form against 141st-ranked Wickmayer, despite losing her way in the middle of an entertaining match at Hard Rock Stadium.
The 21 year-old was forced to dig deep after the Belgian, who reached the Miami Open last eight in 2010, forced a third set as Osaka’s game badly dipped.
Australia series an opportunity for players
LAHORE: Pakistan cricket coach Mickey Arthur is confident new players will grab the opportunity to fill a few available places for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 through the five-match ODI series against Australia starting in Sharjah tomorrow, Friday.
Pakistan has rested six players – captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, Hasan Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi, and Shadab Khan – to provide an opportunity to the other leading performers to stake a claim for the tournament to be held in England and Wales from 30 May and 14 July.
Mickey believed it was a well-thought out and a sensible decision. “We designed this series for our players for the simple fact that we want to test our best bench players,” said Mickey on Thursday on the eve of the first ODI in Sharjah.
“There was planning, sometimes people think that its ad hoc. We want to test our bench-strength so that we could have a look at our final squad and combination. We know our major players for the World Cup,” he said.
Openers Shan Masood and Abid Ali have been prolific scorers in domestic and “A” series, while batsman Saad Ali scored 900 plus runs in the 2017-18 first-class season.
Paceman Mohammad Abbas is an established Test spearhead who has the knack of doing well in limited overs as well. Rookie 18-year-old Mohammad Hasnain has impressed with his pace in the recently concluded HBL Pakistan Super League.
Middle-order batsman Umar Akmal has also been recalled after impressing with his match fitness in the HBL PSL.
“After this series, we go to England and there we go with a very very settled squad and the roles will be defined. We want to know where the squad stands. We felt that we have done everything possible to be the best possible prepared team for the World Cup,” he added.
Pakistan also plays five one-day internationals against England before the 10-team mega event.
Mickey believes trying new players will help in the long term.
“For us, it isn’t so much about Australia, this is about us and those positions for the World Cup and the opportunity created for a lot of players because for us, we need to find who our players are for every position.”
“If we could do that out of this series, then it would be good for us.”
“To be honest, it’s a new squad. This is a series of opportunities. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that a few positions are available for the World Cup. There are probably four available. Inzamam-ul-Haq and I have discussed that. So, these young players need to raise their hands up and try to make those places their own. It’s an exciting time going into the World Cup,” he asserted.
Mickey backed the decision to rest skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and five others.
“Sarfaraz needs rest,” said Mickey of the skipper of Pakistan across all three formats.
“As do Babar Azam and all the guys that are resting. I was telling the Australian boys we have been in the hotels since 12 September. (if) we just keep playing our guys, they gonna get injured and fatigued.”
“We will have a series in England, which will give us a perfect preparation for us going into the World Cup and we would have been silly not to use this series as a rest going into the biggest challenge, the World Cup.”
Mickey, who also coached South Africa and Australia, believes Australia is a resurging side after a turbulent period in the wake of last year’s ball-tampering episode.
“Australia are a fantastic side and they have bubbled away, they have gone through a much-publicized crisis and they seem to be playing some very good cricket at the moment,” he said.
“To win the series from 0-2 down was a fantastic achievement,” said Mickey of Australia’s 3-2 ODI series win in India before this tour. “They have got some fine players, (Usman) Khawaja is in good nick, Pat Cummins is in good nick.”
“They have some good young guys. I am sure they will rotate their players through the series as they also need their major players firing.”