Djokovic going “back to the drawing board” before Roland-Garros

The world No.1 opened his clay campaign, but was downed in an absorbing three-hour battle by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Novak Djokovic / Monte-Carlo 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Cupping his ear to the crowd with a menacing grin, bending back to belt out an almighty roar, the script was written for an archetypal Novak Djokovic comeback.

The world No.1 had lasered a forehand pass down the line to take the second set tie-break in the second round of the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters.

An inspired Alejandro Davidovich Fokina had other ideas, rattling through the decider for his career-best 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1 triumph.

The three-hour tussle marked Djokovic’s first loss in his opening match at a tournament since Barcelona 2018. This just doesn’t happen to the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

Davidovich Fokina deserves a lot of credit, connecting with piercing shots and never letting Djokovic settle into a groove. However, it was fascinating to see how the world No.1 performed in just his fourth match of 2022.

Uncharacteristic unforced errors pinged off his racket (45), the drop shot wasn’t dinking just over the tape, his renowned returns weren’t seizing the initiative. It demonstrated the task ahead for the Serbian to reach top gear at Roland-Garros.

"I was just physically completely collapsed"

“I was hanging on the ropes the entire match. I was really chasing the result constantly,” admitted Djokovic. “He could have won this match in straight sets, and I just fought my way through to the third, but then I was just physically completely collapsed.”

That’s very un-Djokovic like.

Following his well-documented omission from the Australian Open, the world No.1 had last featured on Tour in a quarter-finals loss to Jiri Vesely in Dubai back in February. With that in mind, there was obviously going to be some rust in his play, the 34-year-old attempting to recapture his dominant form and match sharpness after a testing time.

Obviously last four, five months have been really challenging for me mentally and emotionally, but I try to leave all of that behind and move on,” declared the 34-year-old, highlighting where he was most frustrated in Monte Carlo.

Novak Djokovic / Monte-Carlo 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I didn't like the way I felt physically in the third. I just ran out of the gas completely. if you can't stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it's mission impossible.

“I'm going to look with my team into reasons why that was the case and go back to the drawing board and hopefully next week will be better in Belgrade.”

Over his trophy-laden career we’ve all learnt to never count out Novak. Just last June the Serbian held the Coupe des Mousquetaires aloft on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The reigning champion has Roland-Garros in his sights.

"I have to try to be optimistic and build to Roland-Garros"

“Obviously disappointing to lose a match and to feel this way on the court. But again, I'm not gonna stop here,” added a defiant yet patient Djokovic.

“Of course Roland Garros win last year is still fresh in my memory, so I try to use that as an inspiration to kick-start the clay court season best possible way.

“I intend to play full clay court season according to my schedule of the previous years. I understand that I am still testing my engine, so to say, and building my game, so it will take some time, some matches to really get in the groove and find the competitive play that I really need.

“I have to try to be optimistic and build to Roland-Garros, where I want to peak.”

Time will tell if Djokovic can peak in time for Paris. His rivals will be wary either way.

Novak Djokovic / Monte-Carlo 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT