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Taro Daniel stuns Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, AP

Japan’s world No. 109 Taro Daniel pulled off a major upset Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open by beating Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in the second round.

Though most of the crowd at Indian Wells came to see the former World No. 1 in his comeback following right elbow surgery, it was the 25-year-old Daniel who stole the show with a scrappy 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-1 victory.

“I can’t believe I beat someone like (Djokovic) on center court like this, it’s pretty crazy,” Daniel said.

After a closely fought first two sets, Daniel said he sensed Djokovic, still clearly lacking match fitness, was tiring at the start of the third.

“I think I came out playing a little more aggressive than the other two sets and that made him keep making more mistakes. Because he obviously wasn’t playing his best tennis, so I was able to take advantage of that,” Daniel said.

Japan’s success continued on the women’s side later in the day, with Naomi Osaka defeating American Sachia Vickery 6-3, 6-3 to reach the fourth round. Osaka’s next opponent is Maria Sakkari, who was a 6-2, 6-2 winner over American CoCo Vandeweghe.

Daniel, who reached the second round with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 victory over Britain’s Cameron Norrie, had never beaten a top-20 opponent before Djokovic, and needed to win a pair of qualifiers to enter the main draw of the tournament.

“Getting through qualifying made me a bit more confident, which gave me the belief . . . to get through the tougher moments, even against someone like (Djokovic),” he said.

His third-round opponent is Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, who had been scheduled to play Kei Nishikori in the second round before the world No. 25 withdrew through illness. Mayer beat Nishikori’s replacement Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 6-4, 6-1.

Nishikori, who returned to competition in January after a five-month injury layoff, apologized for his withdrawal in a Twitter post on Sunday.

“I have been sick for over a week and tried everything I could to get better. Unfortunately today I am still not strong enough,” he wrote.

World No. 1 Roger Federer finished off Federico Delbonis in a rain-disrupted match to reach the third round.

Federer returned to stadium court on Sunday afternoon and needed an hour to close out his second-round victory 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).

“It’s been a long time since I have been interrupted at night and have to come back the next day,” Federer said.

His title defense got off to a soggy start Saturday night when play was suspended because of rain showers with Federer up a set and tied 2-2 in the second.

The clouds rolled in just before the start of their match on Saturday and after a short delay to start the first set they managed to play until the skies blackened and the heavy rains came in the second. After another 90-minute delay, organizers suspended play for the night.

Federer is making his 17th appearance in the California desert and is assured of remaining world No. 1 if he makes it to the semifinals.

Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion who lost to Federer in the final of this year’s Australian Open, eased to a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Marton Fucsovics.

On the women’s side, top-ranked Simona Halep came back to top 19-year-old Caroline Dolehide 1-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 in just over two hours.

American Amanda Anisimova took down two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-4 in a match lasting just over an hour to become the first 16-year-old to move into the fourth round at Indian Wells since Viktoriya Kutuzova in 2005.

“It feels crazy. I mean, I’m still in shock,” Anisimova said. “She’s the best player I have ever played, and it was the biggest court I have ever played on. So it was definitely nerve-wracking kind of, but I was enjoying it so much out there and I was playing my best. It was a good day.”