The Serb was once the most dominant player around - winning four straight grand slam titles from 2015 to 2016 - but little of that scintillating form was on display when the 12-time grand slam victor was upset by Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-1 in the second round in Indian Wells on Sunday.
Daniel, who is ranked 109th in the world, advanced to the third round where he will face Gael Monfils of France who outlasted American John Isner 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-3) 7-5.
Verdasco's first serve proved almost unplayable in the deciding set of the second round match as he improved his career head-to-head record against Dimitrov to 2-2.
Daniel, who reached the second round with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 victory over Britain's Cameron Norrie, had never beaten a top-20 opponent before Djokovic, and needed to win a pair of qualifiers to enter the main draw of the tournament.
The 21-year-old Zimbabwe Davis Cup team player, who is the younger brother of professional tennis player Benjamin Lock, later spoke of his delight at rubbing shoulders with the successful trio in an interview with Standardsport.
He will face 25th-seed Filip Krajinovic in the third round.
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Djokovic's performance in the final set against the world's 109th-ranked player on centre court raised some eyebrows, with four-times grand slam champion Jim Courier saying the Serb had "capitulated". The 10th seed was appearing in his second tournament of the year (Round of 16 at the Australian Open) after undergoing a "small medical intervention" on his right elbow last month.
Djokovic had four aces but served poorly overall, making four double faults. It is still early stages for Novak coming back and the first one after surgery.
"I was not even supposed to be here because of the surgery that was only five, six weeks ago", said Djokovic.
"When you do come back from injury or when you haven't played in a long time, it just takes extra effort". Because if I change and I start to put, like, kind of like first, second serves in to try to play with first serve, but then also doesn't hurting him so much, maybe, you know, he was returning so much, like, on top of the line, if he connect two or three good returns, it was going to be tough.
The win sets up a third round showdown with Spaniard David Ferrer who defeated Tennys Sandgren of the U.S. 6-2, 7-6 (7/3).
When play finally started, Federer set out to avenge his defeat to Delbonis in 2013 - the pair's only other ATP meeting.