DENVER (Reuters) – Rising Serbian talent Nikola Jokic does not yet have the notoriety of marquee NBA players like LeBron James or Stephen Curry but his passing genius is keeping the Denver Nuggets from becoming a passing fad.
FILE PHOTO: Feb 2, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reacts to a call made during the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
While NBA fans tend to fixate on the futures of the league’s A-list players, Denver is surprisingly proving to be a present threat to crash that party.
“Everyone thinks that we’re going to stop. They think ‘they’re going to lose,’” Jokic told Reuters. “But we’re still really good.”
The small-market Nuggets (37-18) are one of the big surprise stories of the season, sitting second in the Western Conference despite losing their last three games.
Jokic, 23, is turning heads and slinging assists reminiscent of former NBA big man and countryman Vlade Divac, though with greater potential and less flopping.
Jokic is a rare collection of size and skill, both powering and finessing his way to averages of 20.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game.
His 11 triple-doubles this season are second in the league, while the 27 he has earned over his career are second all-time amongst centers trailing only Wilt Chamberlain.
While Jokic’s statistics evoke the names of greats, the Nuggets roster does not. Only the most attentive NBA fan could identify more than a couple players on a young team still flying below the radar in the high altitude of Denver.
The Nuggets play with a refreshing equality — they are second in the NBA in assists per game and have seven players averaging double figures in scoring — that often hides their lack of star power.
“We’ve got a deep team. We don’t back down from anybody,” Nuggets guard Malik Beasley told Reuters. “I’d rather be on a team like this then one where there’s not enough passes. It means a lot to have a team like this.”
When Jokic was named to this weekend’s NBA’s All Star Game in Charlotte, the first Nuggets player selected since Carmelo Anthony in 2011, it was a celebrated by the entire team.
“Any time you’re acknowledged and rewarded with an All Star position I think it brings a confidence to a young team like ours that we are getting noticed,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told Reuters.
“Nikola being rewarded with an All Star Game selection will give him a lot of confidence moving forward and the chance to be around the best 24 players in the world.”
Just three seasons ago, Denver were last in NBA attendance. But with the team poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Nuggets boast one of the best home-court advantages in the league and have had to accommodate extra media presence this season due to increased interest.
Jokic’s steady climb to stardom has been a driving force behind the attention. After starting his professional career in Serbia, Jokic was drafted in the second round by the Nuggets in 2014 NBA Draft.
This season, his fourth in the NBA, has been a complete revelation of his talents. Big enough to bruise defenders in the paint, Jokic has a full service of post moves and touch around the rim while also showcasing his three-point range.
It’s clear that Jokic has a variety of basketball influences.
“Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic, Kobe and Shaq – a lot of guys I watched (growing up),” Jokic said. “Tracy McGrady, Vince Carte … I saw a lot of guys just from clips on YouTube.”
Jokic’s maturation has been aided by improved conditioning, and he is eating healthier and has cut out sweets and late night dining.
“He’s taken it upon himself to get better every day. That’s what leaders do,” said Denver guard Will Barton.
Jokic will likely need to lead the Nuggets on an impressive playoff run for them to transition from a nice story to an NBA headline.
Denver is not shying away from the challenge.
“We’ve beaten all comers,” Malone said. “We’re not scared of anybody.”
Indiana falls off the bubble
Editor’s note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through games played Tuesday, Feb. 19.
After its hard-fought 48-46 loss to Purdue at home, Indiana is no longer to be found at Bubble Watch. The loss left the Hoosiers at 13-13 overall and 4-11 in the Big Ten.
Ironically, the nail-biter against the Boilermakers marked arguably IU’s most impressive showing since Archie Miller’s men won at Michigan State at the beginning of the month. Nevertheless, Indiana’s fifth consecutive defeat at home leaves this team with an exceptionally difficult and unlikely path to an at-large bid.
Yes, if the Hoosiers won out the rest of the way and finished the regular season 18-13 and 9-11 in conference play, then a team with wins over Marquette, Louisville and of course over the Spartans would be in the conversation for the field of 68.
That math works fine, it has all along, but the basketball we’ve seen from IU has repeatedly refused to cooperate with such bid-earning scenarios. It wasn’t supposed to play out this way for a roster with likely 2019 lottery pick Romeo Langford and preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection Juwan Morgan.
After beginning conference play 3-0, Indiana was seldom able to maintain a consistent level of scoring from either side of the arc. No team has shot a lower percentage on its 3s in Big Ten play than the Hoosiers (26.7), and only Northwestern has averaged fewer points per possession against conference opponents.
These low-scoring trends have been interrupted for brief moments here and there over the past six weeks, but, so far, they’ve always returned. Now, with just five games left to navigate a turnaround, IU’s time on the bubble has finally expired.
Here’s how we’re projecting the bubble right now:
Bids from traditional ‘one-bid’ leagues: 23 teams
Locks: 20 teams
The bubble: 34 teams for 25 available spots
Should be in: 12 teams
Work to do: 22 teams
Should be in
Since Justin Robinson was sidelined by a foot injury six games ago, two things have happened with Virginia Tech. First, the Hokies’ schedule has been a little tougher than what they had faced previously in ACC play. Second, both Tech and its slightly stronger opponents are scoring less efficiently in these Robinson-less games. It may be good news, of sorts, that coach Buzz Williams has a defense that’s held opponents to 0.98 points per possession over the past six games. Then again, the Hokies have scored just 1.02. With Robinson sitting, the margin for error with this projected No. 6 seed has been smaller than it was in January. (Updated: Feb. 19)
It’s not easy winning road games in the ACC, certainly, but the concern for Syracuse goes beyond a 15-point loss at NC State. The concern is that Jim Boeheim’s group, never presumed to be a high-powered offense, is scoring at a rate that’s low by even the most modest expectations. In the past three outings, Oshae Brissett, Tyus Battle and their teammates have produced just 0.89 points per possession. Scoring from beyond the arc has been in particularly short supply, and Syracuse has given the ball away on 21 percent of its possessions in those games. To recap, this is a team nominally in line for a No. 8 or 9 seed but one that’s also in a scoring slump as it prepares to host Louisville and Duke at the Carrier Dome. There’s a lot on the line for the Orange in the coming days. (Updated: Feb. 13)
Work to do
Losing 94-78 at Duke drops NC State to 6-7 in ACC play, but the Wolfpack may not turn out to be the best example of those over-privileged but under-.500 major-conference bid hoarders you tend to hear about. Kevin Keatts’ team drew one severely front-loaded conference schedule, and now that his guys have played Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse and the Blue Devils just in the past three weeks, they’re about to get a well-deserved respite of sorts. The game at Florida State the first Saturday in March will be no picnic, certainly, but other than that, NC State has two games against Boston College and one each against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech left to play. The prospective No. 9 or 10 seed still looks solid, even at 6-7. (Updated: Feb. 17)
The Tigers have lost three straight and are now down to 5-8 in the ACC. No, that’s not the best look for a projected No. 11 or, possibly, 12 seed, but there are hints of good news in the schedule. Boston College is coming to Littlejohn Coliseum, and after that Brad Brownell’s men will play at Pittsburgh. Plus, three of Clemson’s last five games will be at home (against BC, North Carolina and Syracuse). Finishing at .500 in the ACC is still realistic, but, make no mistake, it will take much more offense from a group that’s scored just 0.90 points per possession during this 0-3 stretch. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Work to do
Baylor refuses to be typecast. First came the Bears’ fast 6-2 start to Big 12 play, one that, granted, few observers or top 25 pollsters seemed to notice. Then there was the hobbled and short-handed stretch, one where King McClure and Makai Mason both missed games and Baylor fell to 7-5 in the conference. Now add yet another swerve in this road. McClure still hasn’t returned from his knee issues, but Mason played at Iowa State and BU came away with a 73-69 win. Coming after the 25-point drubbing the Bears suffered at Texas Tech, the result is, to say the least, a surprise. The victory in Ames gives Baylor the season sweep over ISU and, more importantly, the best win on the profile for Scott Drew’s team. Maybe the No. 8 seed the mock brackets previously showed for this group was a bit low.. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Call it luck, karma or toughness in crunch time, but Texas looks stronger statistically than your ordinary 7-6 Big 12 team. Those six losses, by the way, have come by a combined 27 points. The Longhorns are expected to draw something in the neighborhood of a No. 9 seed, and this group could definitely give a top seed a game in the round of 32. With a neutral-floor win over North Carolina to their credit (not to mention wins at home over Purdue and Kansas), Shaka Smart’s men make up possibly the most dangerous 15-11 team you’ve ever seen. Yes, that’s a non sequitur. Sometimes those are true. (Updated: Feb. 16)
After a 68-61 loss at Oklahoma State, TCU is 5-8 in Big 12 play. The Horned Frogs entered the game against the Cowboys projected as a No. 10 seed, and one bad outcome won’t determine a team’s bracket fate. The issue, however, is that a win in Stillwater was there for the taking for a bubble team that really could have used the lift. Instead, Jamie Dixon’s team will now have to get that job done in more challenging settings. Of course, that’s exactly what this team did when it won at Iowa State. Time to do more of the same — at home against the Cyclones, Texas Tech and Kansas State and/or on the road against West Virginia and Texas. Somewhere in those five games, TCU likely needs to find at least three wins. (Updated: Feb. 19)
To this point in the 2019 calendar year, OU has defeated one at-large-quality opponent, and now the Sooners have done so twice this season. In earning the season sweep over TCU, Lon Kruger’s men looked more impressive than they have at any point in the conference season. Oklahoma threw a stingy zone defense at the Horned Frogs in Schollmaier Arena, and the visitors cruised to a 71-62 win. OU is still very much in double-digit seed territory (this is, after all, a team that’s 4-9 in the Big 12 and 16-10 overall), but for the first time in a long time, the Sooners look capable of playing in a manner that will keep them in the bracket. (Updated: Feb. 16)
Should be in: Villanova
Work to do: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler
Should be in
Bubble Watch is surprised to see you still hanging around “should be in” territory, Villanova. We had rather thought you would have locked up this question by now. Doubtless you’ll be moving on up soon, but, in the meantime, that second half at the Garden against St. John’s was not your best promotional material: 28 points in 37 possessions and 3-of-15 on your 3-pointers. Yikes. Burn that tape, take care of business on the road at Georgetown and/or Xavier, then let’s revisit this little matter of categorical justice, shall we? (Updated: Feb. 17)
Work to do
Chris Mullin’s men really rise to the level of the opponent. A St. John’s team that was taken to the 40th minute at the Barclays Center by California and that lost at home to DePaul and Providence is striding confidently around the mock brackets with that unmistakable “We’re 3-1 against Marquette and Villanova” gleam in its eye. That will indeed do wonders for a profile. The Johnnies are 7-6 in the Big East and looking at a potential No. 9 seed. (Updated: Feb. 17)
The Seton Hall résumé reflects a mastery of winning when it counts. The Pirates won against Kentucky on a neutral floor, they won on the road at Maryland and, yes, they won at Creighton, giving Kevin Willard’s team its third Quad 1 victory of the season. Those three notches on the belt plus a respectable Big East record (which currently stands at 7-6) could indeed get the job done for a group that entered the game against the Bluejays projected as a No. 11 seed. (Updated: Feb. 17)
At 6-7 in Big East play and with its marquee win being a neutral-floor victory over Florida, Butler badly needs to upgrade its profile. The Bulldogs have road games remaining at Marquette and Villanova, and a win in at least one of those contests is now looking more or less essential for a team listed as “first four out” by Lunardi. (Updated: Feb. 16)
Should be in
With its one-point win at Iowa now safely tucked away, Maryland might be forgiven for entertaining thoughts of winning out the rest of the way. The Terrapins are 11-5 in the Big Ten and they wrap up the regular season with home games against Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota and a single road game at Penn State. Obviously a 4-0 run through that stretch would be no small feat, but there are certainly tougher closing schedules out there. It won’t be a shock if the Terps move up to a lock sooner rather than later. (Updated Feb. 19)
Fran McCaffery’s team has now played three consecutive games that have come down to the last second. The Hawkeyes won with game-winning shots by Jordan Bohannonn and Joe Wieskamp at home against Northwestern and on the road against Rutgers, respectively. Then, against Maryland in Iowa City, it was Bohannon’s turn again. Alas, his 3-pointer was off, an attempted put-back by Isaiah Moss also rimmed out, and Iowa lost to the Terrapins 66-65. The Hawkeyes are now 20-6, seen widely as No. 6 seed material and carrying a well-earned reputation for outstanding achievement in the field of basketball entertainment. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Work to do
In what is fast becoming a recurring Bubble Watch 2019 theme, let’s discuss a major-conference team with an ugly conference record. At 6-8 in Big Ten play, Ohio State suddenly finds itself mired in a rather severe scoring drought. Over the Buckeyes’ past three games they’ve eked out just 0.82 points per possession. (Translation: Georgia Tech-bad on offense. Worse, actually.) Bubble Watch doesn’t wish to be alarmist, there’s no shame in losing at Michigan State, and, after all, OSU’s still a solid No. 9 seed in many mock brackets. But, again, 0.82. If that continues, the “solid No. 9 seed” part will not. (Updated: Feb. 17)
When last we checked in on the Gophers, Bubble Watch had this to say: “Minnesota is a 6-8 Big Ten team being shown as a No. 11 seed in mid-February. Everything in that sentence fairly screams, ‘Win some games.'” The good news for Richard Pitino’s men is that they are now a 7-8 Big Ten team being shown as a No. 11 seed after they thrashed Indiana 84-63 at Williams Arena. Now the table is set for the big one: Michigan is coming to the Twin Cities, and a win there, paired with the road victory the Gophers already recorded at Wisconsin, would push this team a long way toward “should be in” status. (Updated: Feb. 16)
Should be in: Washington
Work to do: Arizona State
Should be in
Mike Hopkins’ men will likely reach Selection Sunday showing a road victory at Oregon as their best win. That may not sound particularly impressive, but this is in fact the Pac-12’s best per-possession team by a healthy margin, one that’s likely to post a gaudy W-L record in conference play. All of the above may well result in a seed in the middle of the bracket and, consequently, a game against a high seed in the round of 32.. (Updated: Feb. 16)
Work to do
The Sun Devils would likely be in the field of 68, barely, if the selection were held today. Absent the most extreme string of either wins or losses in the arid Quad-1-scarce savannah known as the Pac-12, ASU could remain in this state of bubbly uncertainty for the foreseeable future. True, the upcoming road game at Oregon would in fact qualify as Quad 1 at this writing. Nevertheless, Arizona State has already done its best work under this heading, having won at home against Kansas and Washington and in Las Vegas against Mississippi State and Utah State. (Updated: Feb. 16)
Should be in
Just hours before MSU tipped off its game at Arkansas, the athletic department in Starkville announced that 6-foot-2 sophomore Nick Weatherspoon had been suspended indefinitely due to an unspecified violation of team rules. That was no issue against the Razorbacks, as Ben Howland’s team won 77-67. Indeed, Howland can put Tyson Carter in Weatherspoon’s starting spot, as the coach did in Fayetteville, and see a similar level of performance. Losing depth is never a positive, of course, but it’s not clear the suspension will have a significant impact in the near term on a team that’s being envisioned as a No. 7 seed. (Updated: Feb. 16)
The knock on the Tigers is that that they’re an efficient bunch beloved of laptops but that, oh by the way, Auburn doesn’t actually beat any good teams. Bruce Pearl’s men are just 2-5 against SEC opponents listed as locks, should-be in’s or work-to-do’s by Bubble Watch, and the wins came at home against Alabama and Florida. AU won’t get a chance to change its “all stats, no statements” reputation until it plays at Kentucky next weekend. In the meantime, a team that’s being shown as anything from a No. 7 to a No. 9 seed would be well advised to take care of business mid-week at home against Arkansas.(Updated: Feb. 13)
Just when they seemed to be putting together a nice stretch of games highlighted by a win at Auburn, the Rebels gave up an 18-3 scoring run to close the game and lost 79-64 at South Carolina. The defeat marks the worst showing by Ole Miss on offense in nearly a month, and comes at a time when Kermit Davis and his men are preparing for a two-game homestand against Georgia and then Tennessee. One Quad 2 loss on the road to the Gamecocks won’t do too much harm to the profile of a projected No. 8 seed like the Rebels, but this team looks a bit less steady than it did before. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Work to do
Alabama is in trouble. Avery Johnson’s team lost at home to Florida 71-53, went on the road and then lost at Texas A&M 65-56. Mock brackets were showing the Crimson Tide as a No. 10 seed before the game against the Gators and as a No. 11 or even a 12 seed before the trip to College Station. Well, there aren’t many more numbers left for Alabama to go through, if you catch Bubble Watch’s drift. What was once a solid profile headlined by a win at home over Kentucky is now, at 15-11 and 6-7 in the SEC, looking very shaky. Put it this way, these are the times that make an upcoming home game against Vanderbilt a must-win. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Look who’s still hanging around in “first four out” territory. The Gators are now 14-11 and 6-6 in SEC play, not numbers that necessarily translate seamlessly into “at-large.” Then again, this is also a group with two Quad 1 wins (at Arkansas and at Alabama) and a NET ranking that has been hovering in the 30s and 40s. The 18-point victory at Tuscaloosa was, easily, the Gators’ most complete performance of the conference season and could not have come at a better time. LSU is up next, in Baton Rouge. (Updated: Feb. 16)
Should be in: Cincinnati
Work to do: UCF, Temple
Should be in
Here’s a stat that suggests we may be selling Cincinnati a bit short and, specifically, that a No. 7 line-type team like the Bearcats could make some snooty No. 2 seed very uncomfortable in the round of 32. American opponents have been lighting it up against UC from beyond the arc, to the tune of 38 percent shooting on their 3s (a high number in what’s actually one of the worst 3-point shooting leagues in Division I). Still, the bottom-line results for the Cincinnati defense have been quite good, thanks in large part to this team’s ability to force misses inside the arc. It’s possible we’ll see an even better version of this defense when the hoops gods at last cut it some slack. (Updated: Feb. 17)
Work to do
Give UCF credit. The Knights have shown an unmistakable ability to cling tenaciously to what’s supposed to be a precarious spot, the very bottom of the at-large field on either the No. 11 or No. 12 line. That status is holding steady after UCF took care of Memphis at home 79-72. The Knights will now get the opportunity to strengthen their hold on an at-large bid thanks to two remaining games against Cincinnati and one at Houston. The first meeting with the Bearcats is up next, in Cincinnati. (Updated: Feb. 17)
It’s not as if a loss at South Florida would have been excessively damaging to Temple’s bracket position. The Bulls entered the game ranked No. 76 on the NET, and thus the contest was a Quad 2 entry on the Owls’ profile. Still, when you’re a projected No. 12 seed, as Fran Dunphy’s team is, you grab every single win you can get. And Temple won, barely. David Collins went to the line for USF in the final second but missed both shots, and the visiting team escaped 70-69. The Owls are very much alive. (Updated: Feb. 17)
Should be in
Congratulations, Bulls. You navigated what on paper looked to be a challenging two-game road swing and came away with flying colors. The wins at Akron and at Toledo mean Nate Oats’ team has a realistic shot at winning out the rest of the way, and the 114-67 blowout win at home over Ohio is certainly a nice start. Running the table would give Buffalo a 16-2 record in the MAC, but even dropping a game along the way, as UB already did at Northern Illinois and at Bowling Green, wouldn’t wreck a profile that includes a win at Syracuse. UB appears to be heading for something in the neighborhood of a No. 7 seed. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Work to do
The Southern Conference has never sent an at-large team to the NCAA tournament, but there’s a first time for everything. Wofford is in this discussion because the Terriers are 23-4, with the losses coming to North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State. Mike Young’s team additionally own Quad 1 wins at UNC Greensboro and East Tennessee State. Finally, it’s worth noting Wofford won at South Carolina by 20, even though that shows up on the profile as a Quad 2 victory.(Updated: Feb. 16)
Mike Rhoades’ team won a one-point game at Dayton and a blowout at home against Rhode Island in close succession. The Rams now stand at 20-6 overall and in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 with a No. 11 seed waiting next month if mock brackets are to be trusted. The bad news, of course, is that mock brackets in February can’t necessarily be trusted. The win at Texas will continue to serve VCU well, but it would have been nice if Dayton had been (or still rises) six or seven spots higher in the NET rankings, thus affording Marcus Evans and company a second Quad 1 victory. Alas, it was not to be. Keep winning, Rams. (Updated: Feb. 19)
Welcome to the fun, Bisons. We here at Bubble Watch Mission Control have been watching you for a while now. You can be justly proud of Rob Marberry‘s Ethan Happ-like post mastery (with better foul shooting), the team-wide attention to detail and total mastery on the defensive glass and, yes, your road win at TCU in November. Historically speaking, the at-large-bid production of the Atlantic Sun has not been what one would term voluminous, but your combination of the marquee win with a 30-ish ranking in the NCAA Evaluation Tool promises to make this an interesting next few weeks. Congratulations, and one last thing. You can thank your ranked-60-something-in-the-RPI lucky stars that the old metric is gone. Bubble Watch rejoices with you there. (updated: Feb. 16)
The best offense in Mountain West play thus far has belonged not to Nevada but to Utah State. By a hair, granted, but for now the Aggies own those bragging rights. Sam Merrill is shooting 41 percent on his 3s in conference play, and Quinn Taylor and Neemias Queta have shown they can do great things on the offensive glass in the rare event of a miss. Utah State has three games yet to play before Craig Smith’s men welcome the Wolf Pack to Logan for a potentially profile-transforming evening of basketball. With Quad 1 wins on a neutral floor against Saint Mary’s and at Fresno State, the Aggies are commonly being labeled as “first four out” material in mock brackets.
Belmont won a game in Pauley Pavilion against UCLA in December, but (fans in Westwood will want to stop reading right here) it’s the fact that Rick Byrd’s team swept a nonconference home-and-away series with local rival Lipscomb that really brightens a team sheet in 2019. Now the Bruins of Nashville are competing with Ja Morant and Murray State for Ohio Valley Conference supremacy. Morant likely has OVC Player of the Year locked up (Bubble Watch is out on a limb here), but in any other season, voters would be taking a very long look at Dylan Windler and his prolific yet highly efficient scoring as a stretch-4. Belmont lurks just outside the field in most projections, but at 21-4, Byrd’s guys have won nine straight and are looking to run the table.
No sooner had Davidson been welcomed to the august precincts of Bubble Watch than the Wildcats promptly went out and lost their next game. Bob McKillop’s men trailed Dayton at home by 19 in the second half and came all the way back to tie the game in the final minute only to fall short 74-73. The loss leaves Dayton at 19-7 overall and 10-3 in the Atlantic 10. Beating VCU at home in January will continue to look good on the profile, but, in any event, we likely won’t have to wait long to know whether an at-large bid’s still within reach for the Wildcats. Their next game’s at Rhode Island, and winning there is, on paper, going to be a taller task than winning at home against the Flyers would have been. (Updated: Feb. 19).
MLB putting new rules in place to curtail sign stealing
Major League Baseball is putting new rules in place this season to guard against high-tech sign stealing, according to an SI.com report.
After several incidents of alleged stealing of catchers’ signs last season, including during the postseason, commissioner Rob Manfred had promised to have new directives in place this year to curtail the practice.
MLB already had a rule in place that prohibited sign-stealing from any place other than a runner on second base. That rule would now be updated to include measures that address the use of new technology to gain an advantage on opponents.
Among the new rules, according to the SI.com report, would be:
A ban on in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole.
Live broadcasts limited to each team’s designated replay official, who in turn will be monitored by a security expert.
Having all other TV monitors, such as those in the clubhouse and bullpens, on an eight-second delay.
Penalties for violation of the rules would include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money, according to the report.
Top seed Thiem knocked out of Rio Open in first round
FILE PHOTO – Tennis – Australian Open – Second Round – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 17, 2019. Austria’s Dominic Thiem in action during the match against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Top seed Dominic Thiem was knocked out the Rio Open in the first round on Tuesday, going down 6-3, 6-3 to Laslo Derje, a result that gave the unheralded Serbian his first victory over a top 10 player in his career.
The world ranked No. 90 broke Thiem’s serve five times in what was a surprisingly lackluster display from a man who has won eight ATP titles on clay.
Thiem served five double faults in a tournament he won in 2017.
“He played a bit worse than normally I think, to be honest,” Derje said. “But I had a great day. I felt the ball really well, hitting well from the baseline and then attacking well when it was time for that.”
“The biggest win in my career so I’m really happy right now.”
In another upset, third seed Marco Cecchinato was beaten 7-5, 7-6(1) by Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.
Cecchinato was on a high after winning the Argentina Open on Sunday but he never hit the same heights against the unseeded Bedene.
Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty
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