Thousands of tennis fans turned out for the first Saturday of competition at the BNP Paribas Open, as temperatures from Los Angeles east to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden rose to the mid-90s and caution of heat stroke spread.
2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic didn’t find the conditions too oppressive, but couldn’t pull together his winning game to get past Argentina’s Juan Monaco. The No. 10 seed lost to the former World No. 10, 6-3 7-5, in his first match since November. The Croat had been hitherto sidelined due to a right shoulder injury.
Cilic had only begun preparation for Indian Wells in the last three weeks, during his tenure in in Los Angeles.
“It’s really good to be playing,” Cilic began, smiling. “I wasn’t expecting that I’m going to be playing great tennis, which, you know, it’s always difficult in the first couple matches. Some players do feel great straightaway, but I’m [the] kind of player that needs a few matches to get into it.”
Although his World Tour record lists no official results since London, Cilic did expand his season to include the new Asian tennis league, the International Premier Tennis League. Despite the increased physical tax, he doesn’t believe IPTL exacerbated his shoulder issues.
“I played there six, seven matches and [they] didn’t hurt me that much,” he said. “Then later it took pretty long time to heal it. I would probably skip playing the end of the year Tour Finals [if I knew the extent of the recovery].”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Cilic was “bothered by an inflamed humorous bone.”
Rehabilitation took ten weeks, much longer than anticipated. As time passed, news spread of withdrawals from the earliest tournaments of the new year — Brisbane and the Australian Open — to his home tournament in Zagreb, Croatia, and the year’s first Davis Cup tie against Serbia.
“I had the injury throughout the second part of last year,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that long. That’s why I missed the first part of the year.”
Cilic has teamed up with Juan Martin del Potro to play doubles here; their first match is tomorrow. Del Potro withdrew from singles competition, as his left wrist remains a problem.
“I was feeling ready to play today,” Cilic said, in defense of his decision to play doubles. “Even in the last games when Juan [Monaco] was serving for it, I was even having a few chances to come back. With the doubles, I spoke with Delpo and he expressed desire to play and also to get back on the court. So a few matches in the doubles is always helpful.”
Although Thanasi Kokkinakis doesn’t have the hardware owned by Cilic, the Australian wildcard scored one of his biggest wins today, defeating No. 23 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in three grueling sets.
“Big win for me. Definitely top three,” Kokkinakis said, still breathing heavily from his victory. “It was my first win back-to-back for me at a Tour event, which is a big thing for me. That was playing on my mind because I’ve had some good wins in first rounds. I felt like I have the game to make it deep into these tournaments so, yeah, it rates up there with the best.”
Kokkinakis’s biggest win came Down Under in January, where he up-ended No. 11 Ernest Gulbis in five sets.
The teenager came back from breaks down in two sets against Garcia-Lopez, but thought he could have closed the three-hour ordeal sooner.
“I didn’t think his serve was a strong point, but he is a real good returner,” Kokkinakis told the ATP. “So I knew I was always going to get a chance on my serve game. So I didn’t worry if I was a break or two down. I just tried to keep playing my tennis. I thought I should have won the third a bit easier.”
He closed out the match 7-5 5-7 6-3, smacking 13 aces on the way.
With singles stalwarts like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, and Milos Raonic all entered in doubles, Kokkinakis got on the bandwagon as well.
“I was going to play with Nick [Kyrgios]. He said we might have a good chance to get a wildcard, but that fell through,” Kokkinakis said. “So my coach asked me if I wanted to play with [Andy] Murray. He was up for it, so my coach asked Amelie [Mauresmo]. But we’ve been talking a far bit and we get along with each other so we knew what to expect.”
The two upset Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, the No. 4 seeds, in the first round.
“We played well together and we combined well,” the six-foot-five Aussie said. “Whenever two singles players come together a lot can happen on the court.”
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