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Novak Djokovic has crashed out of the Monte Carlo Masters in his first match since February. The world No 1 has been unable to complete for most of the season due to his unvaccinated status and finally returned in the first Masters 1000 of the clay season but looked out of form as he suffered a three-set defeat to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1 in two hours and 54 minutes.
Djokovic was playing just his second tournament of the season and had not competed in a professional match in 47 days, when he lost to qualifier Jiri Vesely in the Dubai quarter-finals. The lack of match play proved detrimental for the Serb, who found himself falling at the first hurdle as the world No 46 battled through to earn his first defeat over a world No 1 in straight-sets.
It was a slog at the start for the top seed, who needed eight minutes to save two break points hold serve in the opening game of the match but things immediately started to run away from the two-time former champion as he lost the next four games in a row to the 22-year-old, who had been yet to defeat anyone inside the world’s top 25 so far this season. The 20-time Major champion managed to end the Spaniard’s run of games as he broke for 2-4 but Djokovic’s burst of form didn’t last long, as Davidovich Fokina broke again to close out the opener 6-3 in 44 minutes in a set that saw 16 unforced errors come off the top seed’s racket.
The second set was something of a rollercoaster, with the world No 46’s form initially continuing when he came from 30-40 down to break for a 2-0 lead and was then forced to fend off five break points in a 14-minute, eight-deuce game, eventually holding for 3-0. Djokovic failed to back down and was able to hold to love before break the Spaniard at the next opportunity to get himself back on serve at 2-3, the first time in the match that he had won back-to-back games.
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The 22-year-old broke once more but Djokovic managed to get back on serve again when Davidovich Fokina threw himself to the ground and grazed his hands and knees, needing a medical time out at the change of ends with the top seed back on serve again at 3-4. The world No 46 then hit three back-to-back double faults to get broken and allow Djokovic to serve for the set at 5-4 but the breaks continued, with the Spaniard then getting back on serve at 5-5.
Both players managed to hold on to force a tiebreak which saw them trade mini-breaks much like throughout the set before Djokovic managed to perfectly place a winner into the back of the court and snatch the 85-minute set 7-6(5), jeering on the crowd as he put his hand to his ear and listened to the fans’ cheers after forcing a decider. It was Davidovich Fokina who started the third set with a break as Djokovic could be heard muttering in Serbian from the baseline, gifting his opponent the game with a double fault.
Djokovic saved three break points in a lengthy service game to get himself on the board in the decider as the pair needed 27 minutes to complete the opening three games of the final set. It was the 22-year-old’s turn to save a break point before he managed to secure a double-break lead over the top seed at 4-1. He quickly held to love to put himself within a game of the biggest win of his career and managed to break in the final game for a shock 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1 victory over the world No 1 and two-time former champion.
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The Serb’s second-round loss marks his earliest exit in six years at the Monte Carlo Country Club, when he lost to his recent Dubai conqueror Vesely in round two back in 2016 after receiving a first-round bye. He will now go on to play the Serbia Open in his hold of Belgrade next week – an ATP 250 event held in his own Novak Tennis Centre where his brother Djordje is the tournament director.
With the Madrid Masters also in his pre-French Open schedule, Djokovic will be hoping to get some momentum ahead of his title defence on the Parisian clay where he beat Rafael Nadal in last year’s semi-final before going on to lift the title.
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