All three suffered opening-round exits at the Miami Open. (AP)

The strange start to the 2018 season continued with top names suffering early exits at the Miami Open.

Novak Djokovic admitted his return after elbow surgery was an experiment to see how well he could play before the start of the clay-court season. Not that well, he learned, as he evaporated in back-to-back opening round losses in Indian Wells and Miami.

Serena Williams learned a similar lesson as she drew a tough first-round opponent in Indian Wells champ Naomi Osaka. She lost in routine fashion 6-3, 6-2, shook her head in bemusement and walked straight out of Crandon Park without doing press.

After a long layoff and a profound set of new circumstances as a new mom, it’s been understandably hard for Serena to know what to expect from herself so soon into her comeback.

 
 

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Roger Federer’s sudden struggles have given him clarity on his upcoming schedule. After playing coy on his clay season plans, consecutive losses for the first time since 2014 have him easing up on the gas. He’s skipping the clay court season, including the French Open, to prioritize the rest of his season.

It's tough to argue with his reasoning. The same strategy last year produced Federer's eighth Wimbledon title.

Even the red-hot Juan Martin Del Potro, fresh off his victory over Federer in the Indian Wells final, plans to take a break after the Miami Open—where he's into the quarterfinals. 

At such a curious moment in both the men’s and women’s game, it seems the only certainty is the top players’ renewed consciousness of their limits and how far to test them.


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