By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Novak Djokovic biked to the Monte Carlo Country Club for today’s match.
A strong closing kick kept Djokovic in his hometown tournament.
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When Gilles Simon served for the match at 5-4, Djokovic found another gear charging through three games to survive a gritty 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, victory at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
A year after Jiri Vesely snapped Djokovic’s 14-match winning streak in a Monte-Carlo upset, Simon nearly sent the second seed packing today.
In Djokovic’s first tournament match since suffering a fourth-round loss to Nick Kyrgios in Indian Wells last month.
The reigning Roland Garros champion will play either 13th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta or Karen Khachanov for a quarterfinal spot.
Shaking off signs of rust—Djokovic’s two-handed backhand strayed at times, he saved just one of six break points, lacked depth on some of his drives and sometimes struggled to finish points against the speedy Frenchman—the two-time Monte Carlo champion kept calm scoring his 11th consecutive win over Simon.
"He just found a way to take away angles from me," Djokovic said afterward. "I couldn't maybe play as I have for the first 45 minutes of the match. I started to take more risk becuase of his game and I made more errors, unfortunately. And we got ourselves in the third set.
"Then after that, obviously it was a very close battle that could have ended differently. And it would be, of course, deserved if he would win the match. He was two, three poitns away from winning it. I got myself out of that tricky situation and that's probably the most positive thing I take out of today."
Djokovic broke serve twice in the final three games to finish a fight where he wasn’t at his best, but competed with conviction and resourcefulness when he needed it most.
"It was a very difficult match, with many changes of momentum," Djokovic said. "It was very tiring for me, the first clay of the season. But this is the start of the Roland Garros build-up.”
The build-up was a let-down for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
A day after celebrating his 32nd-birthday, the seventh-seeded Tsonga was bounced out by French qualifier Adrian Mannarino, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3.
Playing crosscourt combinations, Djokovic scored his second break of the set for 5-3. With his parents watching from a court-side box, the second-seeded Serbian served out the set at love.
Simon is a smart competitor, smooth mover and solid in all phases of the game.
The slender Frenchman showed stubborn will fighting off three break points in the third game of set two.
Stepping into the court, Djokovic drove deep crosscourt shots to continue the pressure. A biting return gave him a fourth break point. When a stretched Simon floated a forehand long ending an eight-minute struggle, Djokovic had the break and a 2-1 lead.
Undeterred, Simon leaned low poking a backhand pass down the line. Djokovic’s half volley dig found the tape for two break points.
The normally trusty two-handed backhand betrayed Djokovic as his shot down the line strayed wide. Simon was back on serve, 2-all.
Simon’s ability to strike accurately on the run helped him withstand four more break points in the fifth game. Djokovic had Simon on a string careening side-to-side when the 2012 semifinalist issued a stunning backhand down the line wrong-footing the world No. 2. When Djokovic scattered a forehand, Simon survived a 10-minute hold—and four break points—for 3-2.
Lingering frustration over lost opportunity haunted Djokovic, who launched a forehand well long donating the break in the sixth game. The bearded Simon was locked in from the baseline with an unerring display.
When another Djokovic forehand flew beyond the baseline, Simon snatched the second set that had seemed so firmly in his opponent’s control to level after 88 minutes of play. A defiant Simon fought off seven of eight break points in the set, while Djokovic managed to win just four of 11 second-serve points in the set.
Resetting, Djokovic won five straight points to start the decider.
Deadlocked at deuce in the fifth game, Simon somehow scraped a backhand lob volley from no-man’s land that soared over Djokovic’s head wrapping a pulsating exchange for the first break point of the final set. Trying to change direction down the line, Djokovic found the net instead as Simon broke for 3-2.
Accepting the challenge, Djokovic played some sharper angles breaking right back at 15. Serving at 30-all, Djkovic showed daring pulling the string on a fine drop shot for game point then curling crosscourt forehands to push Simon off the court and draw the error, earning a hard-fought hold for 4-3.
Two games later, Simon stressed Djokovic out again.
Slicing Simon off the court with a wide serve, Djokovic had the Frenchman off the court when he badly bungled a backhand down the line to face break point. In the ensuing rally, Simon stepped in, accelerated through an inside-out forehand and drew a netted backhand reply breaking for 5-4.
For the second straight year, Djokovic found himself on the brink of another opening-round exit.
A tight Simon faced two more break points. He saved the first but on the second Djokovic locked the Frenchman in a crosscourt backhand exchange coaxing an error that flirted with the top of the tape. Djokovic waved his arms exhorting the crowd to make some noise breaking back.
Tommy Haas snapped a 10-match losing streak in Houston last week becoming the oldest man since Jimmy Connors in 1995 to win an ATP singles match. A focused Haas backed it up with another victory today. The 39-year-old Haas hammered Benoit Paire, 6-2, 6-3, in 68 minutes.
The oldest man in the singles draw scored his first Monte-Carlo win since he defeated Xavier Malisse in the 2004 first round. Haas will face ninth-seeded Tomas Berdych next. In a battle of wild cards, Jeremy Chardy outlasted Marrakech champion Borna Coric, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3, for a meeting with Marin Cilic.
Tenth-seeded David Goffin spotted Nicolas Almagro an early break then roared back for a 7-5, 6-1 triumph.
No. 11-seeded Lucas Pouille dismissed the lone American, Ryan Harrison, 6-2, 6-4, setting up a second-round clash with Italian Paolo Lorenzi, who swept Marcel Granollers, 6-2, 6-4.
Jiri Vesely, who toppled then world No. 1 Djokovic in his 2016 Monte Carlo opener, defeated Mischa Zverev, 7-6 (3), 6-3. The left-handed Czech will play 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka next.
Another lefty, 35-year-old Feliciano Lopez, stopped Daniil Medvedev, 7-6 (6), 7-5, to set up a second-round encounter with 14th-seeded Alexander Zverev.