Novak Djokovic’s tennis season started like no other on Tuesday again in the home clay.
There are setbacks.
Expelled from Australia in January for failing to play against Covid-19 and therefore not qualifying for entry, he was beaten in early Dubai in February and unable to enter the US in March, so Djokovic returned to the court at the Monte Carlo Masters. after a seven-week hiatus from the competition. Out of the starting lineup, he bravely lost the first game against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina before losing 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1.
Davidovich, a 22-year-old Spaniard, broke Djokovic’s free-kick nine times, the most that Djokovic had broken on tour in any of the three sets.
“I was bought,” Djokovic told reporters in Monaco. “I was hanging on to the whole game. I was really looking forward to the result. ”
It was a misfortune, of course. Djokovic, despite the last interruption, is still in first place in the men’s tour. He has won 20 major individual titles, almost finished the Grand Slam last season and has been the second best clay male player in the last decade behind Rafael Nadal.
Davidovich, despite reaching the quarterfinals of last year’s French Open, is in 46th place and lost in the opening phase of his last two tournaments. Until Tuesday, he was the only top-10 player to win.
But the truth is that this victory against Djokovic was only a small surprise. Djokovic, who remains unvaccinated against Covid-19, is rusty for obvious reasons and will soon turn 35 years old. Men’s tennis is full of depth and the young star is rising as Davidovich’s 18-year-old compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, who recently won the Miami Open.
Although Djokovic-Alcaraz was upset about a possible quarter-final match, Djokovic managed to get more than he could handle to the most promising second-generation Spaniard in the game.
“I knew Nol didn’t have that confidence because he didn’t play much,” Davidovich said, using Djokovic’s nickname. “I had to focus on every point because I had my chances from the start, and I just did it.”
Davidovich, 22, looks like a Viking ready to make a case, with his head well cut at the sides and his clean hair tucked back into a knot. His father Eduard Mark Davidovich, a former boxer, is originally from Sweden and his mother Tatiana Fokina is from Russia. But he was born in Malaga (Spain) and, as his accent makes clear, grew up in the Spanish region of southern Andalusia. He started playing tennis at the age of two – even younger than Djokovic – and has become one of the brightest and fastest men in the game under the guidance of his longtime coach Jorge Aguirre.
He has a tattoo of a broken wave on his arm, and he plays tennis with aggression and ingenuity, spreading a drop shot and kicking under. He often acts like a goalkeeper: he throws in the air to keep a wide shot or kick from below the T. Against Djokovic, he was soon covered in red clay, despite winning the Wimbledon boys ’title on the grass in 2017, remains his best surface. .
Mindfulness has been a major obstacle for Davidovich, and he has been collaborating with a performance psychologist for several years to control his mind and maintain his concentration and belief.
“It’s not easy to tame everything in it,” Aguirre told the Spanish ABC publication last year. “It simply came to our notice then. These concentration failures are due to insecurity. We have managed to reduce them. The first few months, then they could last for weeks and now we’re working on them, so they last a game or a point and then they disappear in a year or so. ‘
They are not gone yet. Twice in a second-half break, Davidovich lost his way, giving Djokovic a boost. Although Djokovic failed to serve the second set with a 5-4 lead – he made four unforeseen mistakes – he managed to win the equalizer with a pass from the right.
With his eyes wide open, Djokovic put a finger to his ear and nodded confidently as he stared at the people before screaming calmly. The scene was familiar to those who followed the strong Serbian star, but this time there will be no return, partly because he has played little lately and the second set required an effort of 1 hour 23 minutes.
After a 10-minute break, Djokovic returned to the clay standing, but was soon emitting negative energy as he spoke to himself again as he missed the kick-off despite jumping to a 40-15 lead. This time, Davidovich did not shy away from scoring a championship that he had won hard in the previous two games and was his tennis model for a long time (they played together in Spain during the pandemic).
But Djokovic’s play and attitude were unrecognizable as he walked through his service games and missed a shot on goal. He ended up with 51 unforced errors at the club, where he trains regularly as a resident of Monaco.
“I didn’t like the way I felt physically in the third,” Djokovic said. “I ran out of gas. He could not rally with him. I mean, if you can’t stay in the rally, if you don’t feel your legs in the clay, the mission is impossible. “
His concern is why it was so worn out. Djokovic has been fit for a long time, but he has also had a coronavirus at least twice, although he has not indicated that this has affected his endurance.
“I will discuss the reasons with my team,” he said of the disappearance in the third set.
It’s a smaller group now. He is no longer with Marian Vajda, his longtime friend and coach, which leaves Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, as his head coach. Ivanisevic was with Djokovic in Australia in January, where he was denied a visa for his Australian Open title. His appeal was remanded in custody and he was expelled on the eve of the Australian Open. After also losing to the American Wells, California and Miami American Championships, he has played just four individual matches in 2022.
His 2-2 record is worrisome now, but it must be remembered that Djokovic is one of the top fighters in the sport and had previously lost at the start of Monte Carlo, advancing to the French Open, his main goal in May. .
The next stop in his weirdest season: more clay at home in the Belgrade tournament next week, he was born in the Serbian capital.