Rustiness Shows As Djokovic Struggles In Loss At Monte-Carlo Masters

Novak Djokovic and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (photo: ATP Tour video)

MONTE-CARLO/WASHINGTON, April 12, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Three of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters Top 10 seeds were in action as the second full day of main-draw play took place at the Monte Carlo Country Club in the Principality of Monaco. While two of the three won, all eyes were focused upon Court Rainier III on a windy Tuesday afternoon for good reason – to see the return of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

The top-seeded Djokovic, who has been missing in action from the ATP Tour since February, returned to a hero’s welcome – he maintains a residence in Monte Carlo – and faced a hungry, upset-minded opponent. Meanwhile, defending champion and third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas faced a former Monte-Carlo champion, Fabio Fognini, and No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz was opposed by a Monte Carlo native, wild card Lucas Catarina. Each of the seeds would fare better than Djokovic.

Djokovic, 34, played in just his fourth ATP Tour match of the year against Spain’s 22-year-old Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Court Rainier III looking to build upon his quarterfinal finish in Dubai in his only previous tournament competition this year. In two previous meetings, last year in Rome and at the Olympics in Tokyo, Djokovic had dropped just seven games to the young Spaniard.

However, after two hours and 54 minutes of exciting and bruising play on the red clay, Djokovic showed his rustiness – 51 unforced errors and nine breaks of his serve – and Davidovich Fokina was full of powerful shot making and energy, grit and determination. Although Davidovich Fokina had never beaten a Top-5 opponent in five previous tries, this time he played every point as if it were the last one – diving like he was playing on grass instead of red clay – and Davidovich Fokina won 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 to advance to the third round.

Davidovich Fokina hit 37 winners to overcome 34 unforced errors, converted nine of 20 break points and saved seven of 11 break points he faced from Djokovic. Davidovich Fokina outpointed Djokovic 115-103.

“This win is so special for me because I grew up watching Nole and I’m a big fan of his,” Davidovich Fokina said during his on-court interview after the match. “I look at him every tournament, every match. Here in Monte Carlo, full of people, against the No.1, I enjoyed every moment and I’m so happy.”

Djokovic was broken three times and made 16 unforced errors against Davidovich Fokina in the opening set, which set the tone for the rest of the match. The second set featured a combined six breaks of serve. Although Djokovic missed an opportunity to serve out the set at 5-4, he recovered during the tiebreaker and hit a forehand passing shot winner to send the match to a decider. It was there that Davidovich Fokina broke Djokovic three additional times and it added up to the biggest win of his career. The nine breaks of Djokovic’s serve were the most breaks of serve the Serbian has allowed during a best-of-3-set match in his entire career.

“I started [well] from the beginning because I knew that Nole [hasn’t played] a lot,” Davidovich Fokina explained. “Then, I had to focus on every point because I had my chances from the beginning and I just did it.

“When he won the second set, it would tough mentally. But I am working so hard to be more focused. It doesn’t matter if I lost the second set or I lost the first set. I have to be prepared for the war.”

During his pre-tournament press conference, Djokovic, who won Monte-Carlo titles in 2013 and 2015, said he was looking forward to the start of the European clay season. “I still feel motivated to compete with the young guys and try to challenge them and fight for one of the biggest trophies in our sport.”

The 46th-ranked Davidovich Fokina, who advanced with a 7-5, 6-3 opening-round win against Marcos Giron of the United States on Sunday, provided a good test for Djokovic. The Serbian was playing for the first time since losing in the quarterfinals of the ATP 500 event in Dubai to Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic.

“I would like to congratulate Alejandro,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference. “He was the better player. He managed to find a better rhythm I think in the first two sets. I was hanging on the ropes the entire match. I was really chasing the result constantly.”

Now, after losing his opening match at a tournament for the first time since Barcelona in 2018, Djokovic realizes the road ahead during the rest of the European clay season – which includes returning home to play in next week’s Serbian Open in Belgrade, plus, there’s a pair of Masters 1000s in Madrid and Rome and, finally, Roland Garros – especially, now that he’s out after one round at Monte-Carlo, won’t be easy.

“I try not to have too high of expectations for myself, even though I obviously want to play at my best every tournament,” Djokovic said earlier this week. “I’m behind with competitive play against 99 percent of the players. So, it will probably take me some time to find a groove, to find the right momentum and get myself in the rhythm. Hopefully, sooner than later. I always want to believe that it can come already [in the] first or second match, but I’m trying to take things step by step.”

Next, after a day off, Davidovich Fokina will play either Marrakech champion David Goffin or Dan Evans in the third round on Thursday.

Around the Monte-Carlo Masters

• Defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece dropped just three games and none after the first set en route to an easy 6-3, 6-0 win over No. 32 Fabio Fognini of Italy in a second-round match on Court Rainier III Tuesday evening. It improved the Greek’s career head-to-head record against Fognini to 4-0.

“Monte Carlo holds a very special place in my heart,” Tsitsipas said during his pre-tournament press conference. He resides in Monaco and growing up attended the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters with his family every year.

The third-seeded Tsitsipas converted five of seven break-point opportunities against Fognini and outpointed him 62-38. Next, Tsitsipas will play either No. 16 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy or No. 62 Laslo Djere of Serbia on Thursday.

• No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz was pushed to three sets by wild card Lucas Catarina of Monaco before the American pulled out a 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory that lasted two hours and 39 minutes on Court Des Princes.

Fritz, who was two points from being upset during the second-set tie-break and came back in the third set from a break down, hit 35 winners to overcome 32 unforced errors and took advantage of 52 unforced errors by the 430th-ranked Catarina, a 25-year-old Monte-Carlo native. The recent Indian Wells champion won and improved his 2022 win-loss record to 18-6 when Catarina double-faulted on match point. Next, Fritz will play No. 23 Marin Cilic of Croatia.

Other Tuesday highlights:

• No. 16 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy advanced in straight sets over No. 42 Ilya Ivashka of Belarus, 6-3, 6-3, by winning 85 percent (29 of 34) of his first-serve points and not facing any break points. The win by Sonego, in back of 25 winners, snapped a five-match losing streak and it was Ivashka’s first match since suffering a broken wrist in February.

Next, the 21st-ranked Sonego will play No. 62 Laslo Djere of Serbia, who eliminated French-born American lucky loser Maxime Cressy, ranked 70th, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-2.

• Great Britain’s 27th-ranked Dan Evans snapped a three-match losing streak and beat 61st-ranked lucky loser Benjamin Bonzi of France, 6-0, 7-6 (4), in their first meeting. Evans outpointed Bonzi, who won his seventh ATP Challenger Tour crown in Cherbourg earlier this season, 74-52, to advance against 74th-ranked wild card David Goffin of Belgium, who defeated 98th-ranked qualifier Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-3. Goffin’s victory was his sixth in a row and came two days after winning an ATP 250 crown on clay at Marrakech, Morocco.

• No. 83 Lorenzo Musetti of Italy pushed French favorite Benoit Paire to three sets and pulled off an upset of the No. 49 from Avignon, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-2, in two hours and five minutes on Court Rainier III. Musetti hit 18 winners and 18 unforced errors to overcome Paire’s 40 winners and 52 unforced errors. Musetti outpointed Paire 103-86 to advance to the second round against No. 8 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.

• Three days removed from winning an ATP Challenger Tour title at Sanremo, Italy, No. 91 Holger Rune of Denmark advanced to face No. 4 seed Casper Ruud of Norway after defeating No. 31 Aslan Karatsev of Russia, 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-3, in two hours and 33 minutes on Court Des Princes.

• Wild card doubles pair Marcelo Melo of Brazil and Alexander Zverev of Germany upset No. 4 seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, both of France, 7-5, 5-4, in an opening-round match.

Tuesday’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters results

Wednesday’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters order of play

By the numbers

Tuesday’s loss by Benoit Paire against Lorenzo Musetti was his ninth first-round loss in tour-level events in 2022. Paire (2-10) has only advanced past the first round in one tournament this season, the Australian Open, where he scored wins over Thiago Monteiro and Grigor Dimitrov.

“Quotable …”

“Sometimes it is difficult, but I am trying to make it easy. Doing everything for the first time, I am trying my best, trying to manage the nerves of the first time well.”

– World No. 11 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who is making his Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters debut, during his pre-tournament press conference.