An out-of-sorts Novak Djokovic insisted he was not panicking ahead of his looming Australian Open title defence despite being sensationally upset in the Brisbane International first round on Tuesday.
A change of racquet began disastrously for the world No.3 as little-known Latvian Ernests Gulbis made a racket of his own by claiming a 6-4 6-4 boilover over the top seed in 88 minutes at Pat Rafter Arena.
The Serbian has been forced to hastily change his preparation barely two weeks ahead of the opening grand slam, but looks set to snap up a wildcard at the Sydney International starting on Sunday.
“I am not panicking. I am not seriously in big doubt. The Australian Open is my highest goal for this part of the year and I really want to play well there,” he said.
“It’s not the end of the world. It’s the first match, so I’m not going to be pessimistic.
“I have a lot of time now to prepare for the Aussie Open.”
The 20-year-old Gulbis’ first win in three attempts over Djokovic was a promoter’s nightmare at the inaugural event.
But an oddly calm Djokovic looked hardly surprised by the result after detailing his disrupted preparation, which included switching racquet brands.
“The racquet is a pretty big change. I like everything (in my preparation) to be 100 per cent perfect, sometimes it is not possible,” he said.
“There are still some things (with the racquet) I am not used to and unfortunately I get this result.”
Formerly aligned with Wilson, Djokovic used his new Head racquet for the first time in competition at Brisbane.
Asked if he would stick with the new brand following the teething problems, Djokovic said: “I am under contract so I have to play with the racquet.”
Djokovic began the week with a chance of overtaking Roger Federer at No.2 in the world rankings but now is sweating simply on securing his next hit-out before his Australian Open defence.
Djokovic’s two previous wins over Gulbis were in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open and the ATP event at Cincinnati.
But the Latvian turned the tables remarkably at Brisbane on Tuesday.
“It is probably one of my best wins but best games I don’t think so, I have had some beautiful losses,” Gulbis said.
The error-riddled Serb’s first serve percentage was a woeful 48 per cent and he was broken in the fifth game of the match, losing the first set in 45 minutes.
The second set started bizarrely with four straight breaks.
Djokovic finally looked on track when he brought an abrupt halt to the spate of breaks to hold his serve to lead 3-2 in the second.
However, Gulbis showed poise beyond his years to break again in the ninth game.
Djokovic handed Gulbis three match points when he netted a forehand and the Latvian then sealed the boilover with his fourth ace of the match.
In other men’s results, fifth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych brushed aside Australian wildcard Brydan Klein 6-0 6-4 and France’s Florent Serra downed former No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-3 7-6.
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