OF THE GRAND CANYON, TARO CARDS AND THE MYSTIFYING FALL OF NOVAK DJOKOVIC – FOUR TRUTHS ABOUT ONE MAN:
1. “Novak Djokovic has checked out,” said a leading writer. But the 12-time Slam champ is from Serbia, not the Czech Republic.
2. Recently Novak meditated on the edge of the Grand Canyon. But, speaking of canyons, today there was a huge chasm between that fabled baseline dominance that took him to No. 1 and the flustered player who hit 58 unforced errors.
3. On Sunday, the man who is so into metaphysics gave Indian Wells fans a mystifying performance.
4. For all his interest in spiritual matters, today he just couldn’t read the Taro [Daniel] cards. Djokovic’s stunning defeat by Daniel, a 109th-ranked qualifier, meant that he’s now lost back-to-back matches to Asian players outside the top 50. (At the Aussie Open he lost to Korean Hyeon Chung, who was then ranked No. 58.)
Then again, about six weeks ago Djokovic was undergoing elbow surgery. He wasn’t even sure he should compete in Indian Wells, and his backhand – normally a foundation of his game – leaked errors. “For me, it felt like first match I ever played on the tour – very weird,” he said afterward. “I mean, I just completely lost rhythm, everything.”
THE GUNNER WHO HATES GUNS: She has it all. A long, flowing blond ponytail, pure unfettered Russian heritage, an immigrant’s savvy (born in New Jersey), a powerful game with a killer backhand, and great initials, just like Arthur Ashe and Andre Agassi. Plus she knows how to go deep in key tennis tournaments – she won the US Open girls tourney last year. Many feel she will add the title of Grand Slam champion to her credentials. Her name is Amanda Anisimova, and she’s only 16.
“It was a good day,” the forthright teen said about her clinical 6-2, 6-4 dismissal of two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova today. Truth is, Anisimova is collecting a lot of good days lately. Last year, in addition to the US Open girls title, she qualified for the main draw of the French Open – where she was a girls finalist in 2016 – while also collecting her first title on the pro circuit at Gold River. More recently, she won a BNP Paribas Open wild card through a semifinal run in the Oracle Challenger Series. She’s made good use of it, defeating France’s Pauline Pamentier and Russian 23rd-seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, all without losing a set. In three matches, Anisimova has dropped just 15 games, allowing her opponents no more than four games in a set.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Anismova is clear-eyed and candid. On the subject of her impressive, well-rounded game, she says, “I really like my backhand.” Asked what’s different about being a young player on the tour, she notes, “It’s more exciting.” On International Women’s Day, she posted a “Battle of the Sexes” photo of Billie Jean King on Twitter. “She started equality on the court…treating the women’s side and the men’s side the same way,” says Anisimova. “I really look up to her…She’s my role model.”
Much like the teens who survived Parkland – one of whom she counts as a friend – Anisimova doesn’t mince words about gun control. “I think that guns should be banned,” she says. “That’s what my opinion is…You should have stricter laws for sure. And I don’t think teachers should be having guns in school…We just have to take them [guns] out.”
Anisimova spent the off-season training at the USTA headquarters in Lake Nona. Her parents and coach Max Fomine are here with her in Indian Wells, but she talks daily with Nick Saviano, whom she works with in Florida. Next up: a quarterfinal against another player with a clean, aggressive game, fifth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova.
GIVE GAEL A HAND: On court, Gael Monfils has used the popular “Wakanda Forever” gesture from the movie “Black Panther.” After his second-round win over John Isner, IT asked him about it. “When you have a movie [Black Panther] that helps to give belief and show strength, it’s good,” he said. “If I can [send] a message with a sign, I do it.”
As for fan appreciation of his vivid, improvisational game, Monfils says, “It means a lot to me, because I try be myself on the court, very natural, give everything and show my emotion. If people are connect[ing with] me, it’s just great. I really appreciate it.”
STORY OF THE YEAR: Serena is officially back. Old Man Federer won the Aussie and is powering on. The Davis Cup, as we may know it, may well be blown up. But ATP injuries are the story of the year so far.
Here’s a list of top 20 players who’ve been knocked out of Indian Wells before or after playing their first match: Nadal, Dimitrov, Goffin, Wawrinka, Pouille, Djokovic, Isner, Fognini and Kyrgios.
JUST WONDERING: What are the chances that Novak Djokovic will get back to his previous Slam-winning status? BTW: Is there a yet-undiscussed existential problem he’s facing?
GO FIGURE: Big-hitting Caroline Dolehide, who took a set off of world No. 1 Simona Halep today, trains at the USTA’s Lake Nona center, and according to Mary Carillo, could someday break into the top 30.