In just his second tournament since Wimbledon a year ago - his first comeback at the Australian Open in January saw him lose in the fourth round to Hyeon Chung before he made a decision to go under the knife for a "small medical intervention" - Djokovic looked well below his best as he went down 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-1 to a man ranked 109 in the world.
On his highly-anticipated return to the tour after right elbow surgery, Djokovic looked a shadow of his former self.
"I was grateful to be out on the court after surgery that quickly but at the same time just didn't feel good at all". Djokovic sprinted out to a 5-2 lead against the 25-yard-old from Japan, but his mistakes began to add up and he finished with 58 unforced errors.
No wonder the injury hit Djokovic uttered to reporters afterward: "For me it felt like (the) first match I ever played on the tour". The Swiss Master is trying to successfully retain his Indian Wells title.
He lost to Chung Hyeon in the Australian Open fourth round in January before undergoing the surgery. "So I was able to take advantage of it". That has always been a rock solid shot for me throughout my career.
Roger Federer's opening match versus 67th-ranked Argentine Federico Delbonis was suspended for the day, causing much frustration to the fans who turned up to see the world No. 1 in California on Saturday.
Djokovic had four aces but overall he served poorly making four double faults and winning just 65 per cent of his first-serve points. "But that's, I guess, it's all part of those particular circumstances that I'm in at the moment".
"When you do come back from injury or when you haven't played in a long time, it just takes extra effort. But I recovered very quickly, and I got myself ready".
If anyone knows what it is like to deal with injuries, it's Juan Martin del Potro - the career of the 2009 US Open victor has been ravaged by wrist injuries.
He extended his 2018 win streak to 13 matches and has only dropped three sets from 34 played this year.