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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, April 9, 2024


Novak Djokovic converted five of 19 break points thrashing Roman Safiullin 6-1, 6-2 in 70 minutes in Monte-Carlo.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

A packed Monte-Carlo crowd embraced Novak Djokovic with cheers as he walked out for homecoming return.

Monte-Carlo resident Djokovic turned the red clay into a neighborhood playhouse sending Roman Safiullin right off the stage.

More: Alcaraz out of Monte-Carlo

A sharp Djokovic shredded Safiullin 6-1, 6-2 in a commanding Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters opener.

Reigning Roland Garros champion Djokovic demolished Safiullin’s second serve converting five of 19 break-point chances in a 70-minute thrashing.

"It's been one of the best performances I had here in quite a few years," Djokovic told the media in Monte-Carlo afterward. "Monte-Carlo is the first big tournament of the clay court season. I haven't been really able the last six, seven years to start off strong and start off well.

"I've always kind of struggled in this tournament. But again, it's just the beginning of the tournament. It's one match. I'm going to hope to work tomorrow to maintain that rhythm and focus, obviously try to perform as well as I did in the second match as well as I did today."

It was Djokovic’s eighth straight clay-court win and first match working with new coach and long-time buddy Nenad Zimonjic following his split with long-time coach Goran Ivanisevic last month.

In his first match since his shocking loss to 123rd-ranked lucky loser Luca Nardi on March 11th in Indian Wells, Djokovic played with relaxed aggression, looked locked in from the opening game and won four of the 15 games played at love.

Afterward, the 36-year-old Serbian superstar reflected on his latest record: Surpassing Roger Federer as the oldest ATP world No. 1 in history.

"It's nice, it's great," Djokovic said. "I met Bopanna yesterday, who is the oldest doubles No. 1 in history. So he said we have a combined age of 80.

"He does contribute to the 80 more than I do, but it's fun. Obviously, to be able to still compete at the highest level and be No. 1 in the world at the age of almost 37 is not something that I was honestly dreaming of or planning on or thinking it's going to become reality.

"But I think all the work and all the dedication to the sport in the end to my body and staying fit is paying off."

Ripping returns and driving the ball down the line off both wings throughout the match, a dominant Djokovic dropped just six points on serve, including winning 11 of 12 second-serve points.

Two-time Monte-Carlo champion Djokovic, who sometimes rides his bike from his nearby home to the Monte-Carlo Country Club to train, raised his 2024 record to 9-4 on the season.

Two minutes into the match, Djokovic made his mark redirecting a backhand drive down the line for break point. When Safiullin missed a diagonal forehand wide, Djokovic seized the opening break.

The top seed confirmed the break at 15 for 2-0.

The pace and depth of Djokovic’s drives were oppressive and Safiullin struggled to counter committing an error as the Roland Garros champion converted his fourth break point for the 3-0 double-break lead.

World No. 41 Safiullin had won both of his prior matches against Top 5 opponents—he beat No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas at 2022 Marseille and topped No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz at the 2023 Rolex Paris Masters—-but found getting the ball by Djokovic was a task as easy as cleaning the clay with a single Q-Tip.

Still Safiullin, staved off break points holding to get on the board in the fifth game.

Throughout the set, Djokovic was sharp changing direction. Rifling a forehand down the line behind his opponent, the Serbian superstar stamped a love hold for 5-1.

When Safiullin put a forehand into net, Djokovic snatched a one-set lead after 33 minutes.

Striking clean combinations, Djokovic rolled through eight straight points to close the set.

Shrinking available space for Safiulllin, an oppressive Djokovic squeezed out more errors.

A skittish Safiullin saw his second serve turned to fodder for Djokovic’s crackling drives. Safiullin double faulted away the break and a 3-1 second-set lead to the top seed.

When Safiullin knocked a forehand into net, Djokovic wrapped up his first clay-court win of the year, allowing just three games in 70 minutes.

The Grand Slam king will face Italian Lorenzo Musetti in a third round Monte-Carlo rematch. Musetti took down Frenchman Arthur Fils 6-3, 7-5.

In a fierce and unruly clash between Monte-Carlo residents last April, Musetti broke eight times shocking Djokovic 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 for his first career win over a reigning world No. 1 to secure his spot in the Rolex Monte-Carlo quarterfinals.


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