Monte Carlo | Djokovic roars but loses

Tuesday was the day the world No.1 was due to burst onto the circuit after finding himself sidelined by his refusal to get a Covid virus shot but, while he put in a gritty performance, the result after almost three hours of play, went against him.

I expected this match to be a really tough match, a physical battle, and that was what it was. Unfortunately, I’m the shortest on the stick, and my week ends here. Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic, playing in only his second tournament of the season, said he “ran out of gas” when he fell to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1 in the second round of the Rolex Monte Carlos Masters.

Incredibly, the Serb gave up serve nine times to the 46th-ranked Spaniard who kept his composure to claim the biggest win of his career and progress to an eventual third-round meeting with Britain’s No.2 Dan Evans, who earlier in the day had opened his own account with a victory in straight sets.

But although it was a busy day with a number of great matches, the main interest was Djokovic’s match and how it would mark his return to the tour now that Covid restrictions are being eased globally.

“I was hanging from the ropes the whole game. I was really looking for the result all the time,” Djokovic said of his rusty performance having played just three matches in Dubai last February.

“I didn’t like the way I felt physically in the third (set). I just completely ran out of gas.

“I couldn’t really stay in the rally with him. If you can’t stay in the rally, can’t feel your legs on the dirt, it’s mission impossible.

“I don’t like that kind of feeling I got in third but I’m going to review with my team why it was and go back to the drawing board and hopefully next week will be best in Belgrade.”

Before the match, Djokovic, the 2013 and 2015 Monte-Carlo champion, said he would find the opportunity for his return after his long absence, “difficult, mentally and emotionally”, but added that he was “passing to something else” and that the defeat will not have shaken his usual confidence in himself.

23-year-old blond Spaniard Davidovich Fokina, the son of a Swedish father and a Russian mother, had lost the previous two meetings last year to Djokovic in straight sets when they met in Rome and at the Olympics in Tokyo had to surprise the top seed with their aggressive play that propelled them into a 4-1 lead and then held on for the first set.

It was much the same in the second as Fokina took a 3-0 lead, but this time Djokovic recovered to win five of the next six games and serve for the set to falter at 5-4. However, he hung on to force a tie-break where he leveled the match and went into alpha male mode with roars and gestures to declare he was back!

That proved to be short-lived as Fokina broke him immediately early in the deciding game helped by a double fault from Djokovic as the 20-time Grand Slam champion struggled to improve on just one game in the third set.

“I always believed that I could come back and win the game, and I stayed there even though a lot of things were against me in terms of how I felt on the pitch,” Djokovic said later at the end of the two hour 54-minute game.

“Game-wise, physically, I was far from my best.

“Of course in these types of conditions and circumstances you really have to work twice as hard as you normally would,” he added.

“I expected this game to be a really tough game, a physical battle, and it was what it was. Unfortunately, I’m the shortest on the stick and my week is ending here.

Djokovic hit 27 game-winning runs to Fokina’s 51 and committed 37 unforced errors to his opponent’s 34. He also hit a single ace and committed 5 double faults, breaking Fokina 4 times out of 11 opportunities. In comparison, the Spaniard didn’t hit a single ace, committed 5 double faults and had 20 chances to break Djokovic, only succeeding 9 times.

“I knew a few days ago when I spoke to you (the media) that it would take me some time to really feel my best on clay,” said Djokovic, who hasn’t made it past the quarters of final since 2015.

“It has always been the case. I never played very well in the opening clay court tournaments.

“But it’s okay. Obviously that’s what it is. I have to accept defeat and keep working.

Alejandro Davidovitch Fokina tried his luck

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On the winning side, a delighted Davidovich Fokina, a quarter-finalist last year at Monaco, said after the game: “This win is so special to me because I grew up watching Nole [Djokovic] and I’m a huge fan of his. I knew Nole didn’t have confidence because he hasn’t played much this season… I had my chances at the start of the game and I took them.

“When he won the second set, it was tough mentally, but I’m working hard to be focused. I had to be ready for war.

His next opponent will be either Belgian David Goffin, champion of Marrakech last week, or Briton Dan Evans, with both players winning back-to-back sets in their opening matches.

Goffin, a wild card entry, comfortably beat Czech qualifier Jiri Lecheka 6-4 6-3 while Evans beat Benjamin Bonzi of France 6-0 7-6(4), a Lucky Loser entry following the withdrawal Spain injury. Roberto Bautista Agut, 14th seed.

The 31-year-old from Birmingham only swept through the first set for Bonzi to finally find his game in the second, but the British No.2 managed to stay focused and raise his when needed in the tie- break.

Evans, the world No. 27 who picked up a thrilling victory over Djokovic last year to reach the semis, needed the victory if he was to have any chance of protecting those precious ranking points earned on this occasion.

In other action, Greece’s defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas qualified for the last 16 with a 6-3 6-0 victory over Italy’s Fabio Fognini, who won the title in 2019 while Taylor Fritz of the USA, the only player to beat Rafael Nadal this year, en route to the trophy in Indian Wells last month, defeated home wildcard Lucas Catarina 6-7(6) 7-6(5) 6-4.

Daniel Evans launches his campaign

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