Tennis

Djokovic on course for 7th Miami title

World No. 1 struggles in win over unseeded opponent; Halep stays on track to regaining world No. 1 rank after victory over Hercog

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic staved off a spirited challenge from Federico Delbonis for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 win in the third round of the Miami Open yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Like Roger Federer the previous day, top seed Djokovic found it tough going against an unseeded opponent before prevailing in two hours in the Florida twilight.

Eighty-third ranked Delbonis, a left-hander with the highest ball toss in the game, took advantage of some Djokovic errors in the second set.

"I managed to really play well last couple games of first set, put myself in front, then I played a couple of really bad service games," said Djokovic, who has won the title six times.

"Credit to Federico, he stepped in. He was the one controlling the pace. I backed up. I didn't have much depth and power in my shots, and he used it.

"First two, three games of the third set were crucial. (I was) really fighting, trying to be present, regain the positioning on the court more than anything."

The result improved Djokovic's impressive record against Argentine players.

According to the ATP Tour, since 2007 only Juan Martin del Potro has beaten Djokovic, who is 36-3 against Argentinians during the period.

Next up for the Serb is Spanish 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who prevailed 6-4, 6-4 over Italian 15th seed Fabio Fognini.

In a later match, Nick Kyrgios had more trouble with a heckler than his opponent Dusan Lajovic. Kyrgios won a point with an underhand serve in the first set, and the Australian then engaged in a heated verbal exchange with a spectator that continued for several points.

The spectator was eventually escorted away by security.

Kyrgios also had a brief outburst at the chair umpire in a dispute over a line call early in the second set, but then settled down and played out a 6-3, 6-1 win in less than an hour.

Next up for Kyrgios is Croatian 11th seed Borna Coric, who battled back to beat France's Jeremy Chardy 6-7(2/7), 6-2 6-3, closing out in style with an ace.

ISNER ADVANCES

Earlier, defending champion John Isner unleashed 16 aces in a 7-5, 7-6(8/6) victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The Spaniard broke Isner to start the match, but the American saved the next four break-points he faced to advance.

"I did a lot of things well today," Isner said.

"I played a good first set, even though I didn't start it off well. In the second, it wasn't quite as clean. I'll talk to my coach and try to iron things out. But I'm into the Round of 16 of a big tournament and I'm happy."

The seventh seed will face the 19th-seeded Kyle Edmund in the fourth round. The Briton beat Canadian 12th seed Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-4.

Meanwhile, Simona Halep kept alive hopes of regaining the world No. 1 ranking yesterday, beating Polona Hercog 5-7, 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 to reach the last 16 of the Miami Open.

The 27-year-old lost her place at the top of the women's game following Naomi Osaka's triumph at the Australian Open earlier this year.

But, with the Japanese faltering on Sunday, Halep can return to the position she last held at the end of last year if she lands the Miami Open for the first time.

The Romanian, who will also move up the to the top of the rankings if she reaches the final and Petra Kvitova doesn't win the title, will certainly have to put in a better display than the patchy performance which eventually sent Hercog, the world No. 93 from Slovenia, out.

"She played unbelievable and it was such a tough match," said Halep.

"It was good to play for almost three hours though. I slowly found my rhythm, but I always had belief. So if I can keep doing this, I will have a good tournament." - AFP, REUTERS

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