The top-ranked Serb struggled to avoid errors for the second straight match, spraying groundstrokes and missing routine drop shots. He finished with 29 unforced errors and was a miserable 2-of-9 on break-point chances.
Djokovic couldn’t control his emotions either: He smashed his racket into bits after losing the first set — later grabbing a towel from a ball girl to sweep up the pieces — and ripped his shirt open in anger during another point.
He argued repeatedly with the chair umpire Carlos Bernardes over line calls and a time violation he received for changing his ripped shirt. He continued the exchange after the match and complained in his postmatch news conference.
“[Bernardes] was the star of the show,” Djokovic said. “That’s what he wanted to be today.”
Djokovic has talked repeatedly this week about trying to find calm on the court and rediscover his inner joy for the game after a grueling couple of years that has left him mentally exhausted. During his quarterfinal, he even started humming to keep his anger from boiling over.
There were no songs on Saturday. Just frustrations.
“This is one of those days,” Djokovic said. “Things go in an opposite direction than you want them, but again, it’s a lesson. Every day is a lesson.”
It’s been a season full of them for a player not accustomed to struggling. There was a stunning loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, an early exit at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics to Juan Martin del Potro and a demoralizing defeat in the US Open final to Stan Wawrinka.
Djokovic lost for the seventh time this season. Of those, five have come against players ranked outside the top 15, according to ESPN Stats Information.
There’s also been injuries, yet another unfamiliar issue for the normally healthy Djokovic.
But the Serb doesn’t believe these challenges are insurmountable. Or that they will lead to a deeper slide.
“I had to experience sooner or later this,” he said. “I knew I could not go on playing the highest level for so many years all the time, but it’s good to experience this so I can hopefully get better in the period to come.”
Bautista Agut won his first match against Djokovic in six chances and improved to 6-30 against top-10 opponents.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.