Novak Djokovic said he “ran out of gas” when he lost his first match at the Monte-Carlo Masters on Tuesday in just his second tournament of the year after refusing to be vaccinated against covid-19.
The world number one fell 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1 to 46th-ranked Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second round after losing serve nine times in a rusty performance. .
“I was hanging on the ropes the whole match. I was really chasing the result constantly,” said Djokovic, whose only other appearance in 2022 was in Dubai in February, where he played just three matches.
“I didn’t like how I felt physically in the third (set). I just ran out of gas completely.”
“I just couldn’t stay in the rally with him. If you can’t stay in the rally, without feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.”
Djokovic admitted his absence from most events had been “difficult, mentally and emotionally” but said he was “moving on” ahead of his comeback in a tournament he won in 2013 and 2015.
Davidovich Fokina had lost both of their previous meetings to Djokovic in straight sets, in Rome and at the Tokyo Olympics last season, but took a 4-1 lead to take the first set.
The Spaniard took a 3-0 lead in the second only for Djokovic to win five of the next six games and serve for the set at 5-4.
He didn’t do it on the first try but rallied in the tie break to force a decider.
Davidovich Fokina broke to start the third set when Djokovic double-faulted, and this time there was no turning back for the top seed and 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“I always believed that I could come back and win the match, and I stayed there even though a lot of things were against me in terms of how I felt on the court,” Djokovic said.
“As for the game, physically I was far from my best level.”
“Of course, in those kinds of conditions and circumstances, then you really have to work twice as hard as you normally would,” he added.
“I expected this match to be really tough, a physical battle, and that’s what it was. Unfortunately, I’m on the low end and my week ends here.”
It is the first time Djokovic has lost his opening match in a tournament since losing to Martin Klizan in Barcelona four years ago.
It has not passed the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo since 2015.
“A few days ago when I spoke to you guys, I knew it would take a while for me to feel my best on clay,” Djokovic said.
“Historically it’s always been that way. I’ve never played very well in the season-opening tournaments on clay.
“But it’s okay. Obviously it is what it is. I have to accept defeat and keep working.”
Davidovich Fokina, a quarterfinalist here on his debut a year ago, will play either David Goffin or Dan Evans for a place in the quarterfinals.
Defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the round of 16 with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Fabio Fognini, who won the title in 2019.
Taylor Fritz, the only player to beat Rafael Nadal this year en route to the trophy in Indian Wells last month, edged home wild card Lucas Catarina 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/5), 6- Four.