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Not a lot of answers for Roger Federer's failures during crunch time

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Roger Federer faced two opponents across the net Saturday. One was a man ranked dozens of slots below him with little to lose. The other? The rejuvenated self who had raised expectations over the past year-plus as he crossed the midway point of his 30s and regained the No. 1 ranking.

Federer, who did nothing but win in the opening weeks of 2018, has now lost consecutive matches -- the first time that has happened to him since the 2014 season -- in decisive third-set tiebreakers. Falling to Juan Martin del Potro in a tight Indian Wells final was an understandable result. Succumbing to 175th-ranked qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Miami Open second round defied all prognostications.

And yet, there was Federer, shaking hands and striding out of the stadium at the Crandon Park Tennis Center for the final time under circumstances he couldn't have imagined after Kokkinakis prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4). The 21-year-old Australian found his bearings in the second set when he broke Federer to go up 3-1 and began dictating points with his huge forehand.

Federer held his serve easily in the third set and extended Kokkinakis in most of his service games but couldn't capitalize in key moments.

"I feel like every time I had chances, something bad happened for me, wrong decision-making by me, good decision-making by him," Federer said. "Who knows what happened. It just felt like I could be paying the price for opportunities missed.

"Don't know why I could never get to any level that I was happy with today. Sometimes you have these matches. Sometimes you find a way through. I just couldn't get it done today."

Federer then broke more news that wasn't nearly as much of an upset, confirming that he will take a pass on the clay-court season -- including Roland Garros -- as he did last year, to rest and train for Wimbledon and the hard courts.

This venue, which is hosting the Miami Open for the last time before it relocates to Hard Rock Stadium, has been a touchstone for the Swiss megastar over a 20-year stretch. Federer won his last match as a junior here at the prestigious Orange Bowl event in 1998 and captured the 2005 and 2006 ATP titles on Key Biscayne in his early era of dominance. Last year he won here again.

His departure removes the leading light from a tournament already sapped of star power. Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic lost their opening matches earlier in the week. Poland's 30th ranked Agnieszka Radwanska toppled women's No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania on stadium court in the match preceding Federer's, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Kokkinakis' fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios knows him well and has watched him come back from a series of injuries that made him consider quitting the game a year ago.

"Today is the day he remembered why he plays tennis and why he worked so hard in rehab," the 20th-ranked Kyrgios said late Saturday night after his own second round win.

"I know Thanasi can win those types of matches. He plays big. It's hard to play against him because he doesn't give you much rhythm. I'm surprised, but then again I'm not surprised."

Kokkinakis, who will turn 22 next month, said, "I gave myself a legitimate shot" to be a giant-killer. Although the two men had never played an official match, they were not unacquainted. Federer had invited Kokkinakis to Dubai to train with him on a couple occasions.

"Maybe Dubai helped a little bit to know what he likes to do," said Kokkinakis, who added that he was "all ears" when Federer offered advice.

"In practice, I feel really good with a lot of the players. Again, there's obviously that difficulty trying to bring that to a match court. I know if I bring that level, I can beat a lot of good players. That's what I tried to do.

"I mean, everyone is human. He just plays tennis a lot better than a lot of people."

Well enough, of course, to have climbed back to No. 1 just a month ago. Rafael Nadal will overtake him next week. Federer said the demotion was appropriate.

"I deserve it after this match," he said. "That's how I feel. Just so bad."