• Dubai Tennis Championships

Del Potro future uncertain, while Djokovic gets title defence underway in style

ESPN staff
February 25, 2014
Juan Martin del Potro was visibly upset after being forced to retire in Dubai © AP

Juan Martin del Potro has cast doubt over his immediate future after he was forced to retire from the Dubai Tennis Championships against Somdev Devvarman after losing the opening set 7-6(3).

Since winning the Sydney Open last month, world No.5 Del Potro has struggled with a left wrist injury that has conjured memories of similar pain he experienced in his right wrist four years ago. In 2010, the year after he won the US Open, he played only three tournaments before and after surgery on his right wrist.

"I don't feel really well," he told reporters. "My wrist is hurting a lot and everybody knows what happened to me four years ago with my other wrist.

"It was really tough to play today. I tried everything. I cannot be the player I would like to be."

It was evident that del Potro was having difficulty coming over the ball on his backhand during the 67-minute first set.

The Argentine had three set points at 0-40 on Devvarman's serve in the 12th game, but the 78th-ranked Indian won the next five points to force the tie-break.

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When asked if he would have kept playing if he won the first set, del Potro said, "I don't think so, no. It was hurting too much.

"Now I will see what the doctor says for the future, and I will let you know very soon what my plans are going to be. I cannot say that [it will be surgery] yet - but I'm feeling similar pains to the other hand and what I felt four years ago.

"It's not really positive for my future, but I will do whatever the doctor says and I will have to be as strong as ever."

Devvarman, a wild card who won a challenger in New Delhi last week, hit a service winner on his third set point in the tie-break that proved to be the final point of the match.

"It's unfortunate, especially for a guy like him," Devvarman said. "I realised he wasn't comfortable hitting backhands and I tried to make him hit as many as I could, and he wasn't really hitting over it so I knew he wasn't happy."

Later on, Novak Djokovic made light work of Denis Istomin to reach the second round. The top seed and defending champion needed just an hour and 24 minutes to see off his Uzbek opponent 6-3 6-3.

Djokovic, making only his second appearance this year after reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, said: "It wasn't as easy as the scoreline indicates and I needed to work for my games.

"Having not played an official match for more than four, five weeks, obviously it takes its toll on the court.''

Djokovic saved all four break points he faced on serve and broke Istomin three times - in the third and ninth games of the first set and in the second game of the second set.

There was also a victory for Britain's James Ward, who came from a set down to beat world No.60 Teymuraz Gabashvili 2-6 6-4 7-6(6).

Ward, ranked 177th, has been rewarded with a last 16 showdown with sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny, who brushed aside Michal Przysiezny 6-3 6-4.

Earlier, third seed Tomas Berdych extended his winning streak to eight matches with a 6-3 6-4 win over Romanian qualifier Marius Copil.

Except for losing to eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open semi-finals, Berdych has won 12 of his last 13 matches. Berdych, who reached the final here last year, won the Rotterdam title two weeks ago.

Fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga secured a 6-2 6-4 win over Romanian Victor Hanescu.

Elsewhere, Radek Stepanek came from behind to beat American Michael Russell 5-7 6-3 6-1, while fellow Czech player Lukas Rosol is also through after edging Germany's Daniel Brands 7-6(4) 6-4.

Sergiy Stakhovsky is also through after beating Ivan Dodig 7-6(6) 6-7(4) 6-2, while wildcard Malek Jaziri recovered from being whitewashed in the opening set to beat Igor Sijsling 0-6 6-4 7-6(4).

Defending champion Novak Djokovic is on course to meet Roger Federer in the semi-finals © Getty Images
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