Novak Djokovic, looking every inch a world No. 1, crushed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-3, 6-1, in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday. But Andy Murray, who could have moved up to No. 2 had he reached the final, suffered a shocking defeat, as he went down, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1, to Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine he had not played since 2009 and had only lost to once before in six meetings.
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Even though he double-faulted his way into oblivion in the third set, Murray at least ensured that the crowd got to see a competitive match — a commodity that, unhappily, has been in short supply over the last 48 hours. Rafael Nadal’s match with Roger Federer did not live up to its billing because Federer was hampered by a back problem, and neither of Thursday’s women’s quarterfinals got on court because of injuries to Viktoria Azarenka and Samantha Stosur.
So when Djokovic blasted his way past Tsonga, the crowd was left with nothing much to savor other than a one-sided master class by a superb player at the height of his powers.
“I just tried to focus on the job I need to do, and my performance was really good,” Djokovic said. “I really don’t care about how my opponent felt. When it was important, I didn’t let him back into the match.”
Murray could not say the same thing after grinding his way through a highly competitive first set that he did well to win after double faulting at 5-2 in the breaker. At 5-4, a rally that lasted at least 40 strokes ended with Del Potro putting a backhand wide. It left both men gasping for breath in the heat as temperatures hovered in the high 90s on court. Murray wrapped it up, 7-5, when Del Potro put another forehand wide.
Worryingly for Murray, he was not able to ride the momentum and, crucially, dropped his first service game of the second set. From then on, it was a struggle for the Scot, who had elected to spend time training in Miami rather than play tournaments after losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open final at the end of January.
He had not played particularly well in the early rounds here, and his lack of match practice was clearly evident, as he tried vainly to prevent an increasingly confident opponent from steamrollering his way to victory.
“He played better on the big points,” said Murray, who tried pressuring his opponent from the net. “I could have served better and returned better, which are crucial parts of my game.”
A total of eight double faults, including two in the final game, offered evidence of Murray’s inability to find the rhythm on his serve.
Del Potro had one slice of luck when Murray finally reached a break point on his serve at 1-2 in the third set. The Argentine’s forehand clipped the tape, and the deviation wrong-footed Murray, who hit a forehand out. Otherwise, the No. 3 seed had very few opportunities to prevent Del Potro from scoring a highly impressive victory.
“I kept calm and used my forehand very well,” said Del Potro. “I also used the slice well on my backhand, which is what my coach (Franco Davin) told me to do, so thanks to him!”