Novak Djokovic lashes 'terrible' act as tennis fans saddened over Rafa Nadal twist

The tennis world couldn't believe the drama at Indian Wells involving the World No.1.

Novak Djokovic has bemoaned his 'terrible' performance against young Italian Luca Nardi after the World No.1 was eliminated from Indian Wells 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Djokovic hadn't played at Indian Wells since 2019, due to US travel restrictions, and returned with one-eye on extending his lead as World No.1 at the 'fifth major' with no tennis points to defend.

Unfortunately for the 36-year-old, Djokovic wasn't at his best again in 2024 having lost to lucky loser and World No.123 Nardi. Djokovic was well below his best having faced 11 break points and only winning 43 per cent of his second serve.

Novak Djokovic (pictured right) was eliminated from Indian Wells with neither the World No.1 or Rafa Nadal (pictured left) featuring in the round of 16. (Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic (pictured right) was eliminated from Indian Wells with neither the World No.1 or Rafa Nadal (pictured left) featuring in the round of 16. (Getty Images)

The match was full of controversy after Djokovic took aim at Nardi for appearing to stop during a point. The Serbian clearly thought his serve was out with the 20-year-old putting little effort into the return. Djokovic put the ball back in play, only for Nardi to suddenly run for a volley and hit a winner.

The 24-time grand slam winner was perplexed and questioned to the chair umpire if Nardi was able to 'stop' during the point. Djokovic was still frustrated after the match having told Nardi to try and not stop during a point. Regardless of the drama, Djokovic admitted Nardi's level was too good for him on another off night to start the season.

"He really didn't have anything to lose, so he played great. Deserved to win," Djokovic said after the match. "I was more surprised with my level. My level was really, really bad. These two things come together. He's having a great day, I'm having a really bad day."

Nardi played the match of his life as Djokovic admitted his mistakes built up during the match. "I made some really terrible unforced errors," Djokovic said.

"Just quite defensive tennis and not much on the ball in the third, and that's it. He just stepped in and he used the time that he had. He was playing more free and more aggressive than I did, and going for his shots and that break on 3-2 in the third was enough."

His loss to Nardi marks the lowest ranked player Djokovic has ever lost to in a Masters or grand slam tournament. The last time Djokovic lost to a player outside the world top 100 was in 2018, which also happened to be at Indian Wells. After his loss at the Australian Open to Jannik Sinner in the semi-final, Djokovic has now gone through the first two big tournaments of 2024 without a trophy.

"No titles this year, that's not something I'm used to," he said. "I was starting the season most of my career with a grand slam win or, you know, Dubai win, or any tournament," he said. I guess every trophy that eventually comes my way is going to be great, obviously to break the kind of negative cycle a little bit I'm having in the last three, four tournaments where I haven't really been close to my best."

Indian Wells was built up as the first tournament both Djokovic and Rafa Nadal would compete at together since the Australian Open in 2023. Fans are hoping the duo play one more match in their epic rivalry as both come towards the end of their careers. However, Nadal's sad news meant the tournament will now feature neither of the tennis legends in the round of 32.

Luca Nardi emrbaves Novak Djokovic.
Luca Nardi defeated Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells. (Matthew Stockman via Getty Images)

Rafa Nadal enters Monte Carlo main draw

Nadal left fans devastated only a day out from his Indian Wells opening match having withdrawn from the tournament. The 37-year-old took part in an exhibition against Carlos Alcaraz, but eventually announced his preparation wasn't good enough as he withdrew from his opening round clash. The Spaniard now turns his attention to the clay campaign.

Nadal suggested 2024 could be his last year on tour and the Spaniard could opt to retire at Roland Garros, which he has won 14 times. And in good news for the tennis world, Nadal was filmed training on clay. He has also entered the Monte Carlo main draw, which could be his first tournament back since the Australian Open. While it was meant to be at Indian Wells, Monte Carlo could be the first tournament Djokovic and Nadal play together since the Australian Open in 2023.

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