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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, April 12, 2022


Alejandro Davidovich Fokina scored his biggest win shocking world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-7(5),6-1 in a two hour, 54-minute Monte-Carlo marathon.

Photo credit: Getty

Squinting through a cloud of red dust, Novak Djokovic was searching for solutions to the problems that plagued him.

The world No. 1 kept probing, but Alejandro Davidovich Fokina had all the answers.

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On a wild, windy day, the 22-year-old Spaniard stunned Djokovic 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1 scoring the biggest win of his career to scrape into the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters third round.

By the time the dust settled on this two hour, 54-minute marathon, Davidovich Fokina looked like he had spent his afternoon mud-wrestling sumo wrestlers. A swath of red clay streaked the back of his shirt and blood gurgled from his knuckles—remnants of the dives he took across the red clay.

Riding a three-match losing streak into Monte-Carlo, Davidovich Fokina was winless in five prior matches vs. Top 5 opponents, including a pair of straight-sets losses to Djokovic in which he managed just seven games total.

Today, the 46th-ranked Spaniard exploited 51 unforced errors from a rusty Djokovic, beat the top seed in critical backhand exchanges, tossed in the underhand serve and deployed the drop shot effectively.

Ultimately, Davidovich Fokina’s desire was his biggest asset—he wanted it more and it showed.

“I’m so happy for the win,” Davidovich Fokina told Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj afterward. “Today to beat Novak it’s like I don’t have any words. I was enjoying every moment, every point because I knew Nole didn’t play a lot this year. I had to go with that, from the beginning to have more confidence with myself.

“My coach just said play every point just that. I didn’t care about fall down because I was like pushing myself. I didn’t care to play every point doesn’t matter if I fall down and didn’t make it, just play the next point.”

It was Djokovic’s fourth match in the last three-and-a-half months and first tournament without long-time coach Marian Vajda. The serve and return are the two most important shots in tennis and Djokovic lacked conviction in both areas.

The two-time champion committed 5 double faults, dropped serve 9 times, faced 20 break points and wasn’t able to consistently break down Davidovich Fokina’s pedestrian second serve. 

Afterward, a depleted Djokovic conceded he just ran out of gas in the third set.

"Well, of course I'm disappointed. No one likes to lose," Djokovic said. "We are professional athletes. This is what we do. We go out on the court to compete and try to win against each other.

"Yeah, I didn't like the way I felt physically in the third. I just ran out of the gas completely. Just couldn't really stay in the rally with him. I mean, if you can't stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it's mission impossible."

Djokovic said he'll try to address the stamina issue ahead of his headlining appearance at next week's Serbia Open in his native Belgrade.

"So I don't like that, that kind of feeling I experienced in the third, but, you know, 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," Djokovic said.

Rust was evident early. Djokovic dodged two break points, including one with a slick serve-and-volley winner, holding in the opening game.

Tennis Express

Though Davidovich Fokina had won just seven games in four prior sets vs. the top-seeded Serbian, it didn’t faze the Spaniard at the outset. He earned double break point in the third game and broke for 2-1 when Djokovic’s drop shot attempt expired in net.

The world No. 46 rapped a drive down the line to set up a crosscourt backhand backing up the break for 3-1.

A grunting, fired-up Davidovich Fokina lured the No. 1 forward with the dropper then drilled a forehand pass crosscourt punctuating a second serve break with a shout for 4-1.

Midway through the set, Djokovic began finding his range and rhythm. The backhand down the line is a Djokovic signature shot and he hit it beautifully to help break back in the sixth game.

Davidovich Fokina continued applying pressure and Djokovic resumed errors. A netted backhand down the line gave the Spaniard set point and when Djokovic scattered a forehand wide Davidovich Fokina snatched the 44-minute opening set on his third break.

Facing one of the top two-handers in tennis history, Davidovich Fokina fired seven backhand winners of his own in the set.

Seeking to reset, Djokovic found himself replaying miscues from the opening set.

Failing to convert a break point to start the second set, Djokovic then double faulted to face a break point of his own. Davidovich Fokina lined up a mid-court forehand, but played it right back to the Serbian who stood his ground to extend the point. Still, Davidovich Fokina stood firm drawing the forehand error to break for 2-0.

An eight-deuce game saw the Spaniard saved three break points, including lacing his 10th backhand winner down the line to deny the third, employ the underhand serve and dive across the court in a desperate bid to intercept a 97 mph Djokovic forehand. The toughest test of the match spanned 14 minutes and saw Davidovich Fokina, white shirt streaked with red clay from his dive, hold with a clenched fist for 3-0.

Though Djokovic lost that game he was controlling the center of the court with more command. Djokovic drained forehand errors and won 10 of 11 points breaking back for 2-3.

The two-time champion saved a couple of break points, but badly bungled an easy high volley to face a third break point. Djokovic carved out a good drop shot, but his opponent was quick off the mark. Davidovich Fokina flew up to the ball and flicked a forehand dropper crosscourt breaking back for 4-2.

After all that good work, the Spaniard imploded botching some drop shot attempts to gift back the break in the seventh game.

Davidovich Fokina dissolved with successive double faults handing Djokovic another break and a 5-4 lead.

The top seed scattered three unforced errors to give back the break. Djokovic was two points from defeat serving at 5-6, but found Davidovich Fokina’s forehand wing holding to force the tiebreaker.

Winless in five prior meetings vs. Top 5 opponents, Davidovich Fokina went up 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but Djokovic turned it up and the Spaniard shrunk a bit from the moment. Down 4-5, Djokovic deployed the serve-and-volley. When the Spaniard framed a forehand, Djokovic had set point at 6-5.

The breeze spiked and so did the quality of play as Djokovic slid into a forehand pass down the line to seize the second set with a brilliant strike. Djokovic held a finger to his ear encouraging roaring fans to make more noise then erupted in a massive fist pump forcing a final set after two hours, seven minutes of physical play.

Salvaging the second set didn’t exactly soothe the Serbian, who spit up his second double fault to drop serve in the opening game of the decider.

"The tiebreaker was so tight could make Nole or me in the tiebreaker," Davidovich Fokina said. "I knew that Nole I don’t know if he was physically 100 percent.

"I went to bathroom to restart my mind. I start so hard from the beginning and I make it. I was believing in myself."

Digging down deep, Djokovic fended off three break points holding in the third game.

Still, Davidovich Fokina was gaining the edge in running rallies leaving a drained Djokovic looking for solutions. Djokovic put a backhand into net as the Spaniard broke again for 4-1.

Djokovic pounded a pair of forehand winners to save match points, but pushed a backhand wide to face a third match point. When Djokovic shoveled a half volley error it was over in two hours, 54 minutes.

"Of course in those types of conditions and circumstances, then you have to really work two times more than you normally would," Djokovic said. "And again, I played a clay court specialist. He had a match already on center court a few days ago.

"You know, I expected this match to be really tough match, physical battle, and that's what it was. Unfortunately I'm on the shorter end of the stick, and my week ends here. I have to try to be optimistic and build, as I said, to Roland Garros and where I want to peak."

It was a day of futility for Frenchmen.

Lorenzo Musetti, who pushed Djokovic to five sets at the 2021 Roland Garros, defeated Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-2 to set up a second-round clash vs. sixth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime. Paire fell to 0-9 this season outside the Australian Open where he reached the second round.

British No. 1 Dan Evans, who upset Djokovic en route to the 2021 Monte-Carlo semifinals, swept French lucky loser Benjamin Bonzi 6-0, 7-6(4) in 99 minutes. Evans will play either wild card David Goffin or Czech qualifier Jiri Lehecka next.

Spaniard Pedro Martinez broke serve six times subduing French lefty Ugo Humbert 6-4, 7-6(5). Next up for Martinez is 2021 Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz.

Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz saved seven of 13 break points grinding past local wild card Lucas Catarina 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-4 in two hours, 40 minutes. Fritz faces Marin Cilic, who defeated wild card Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in round two.


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