MONTE CARLO (Reuters) -World number one Novak Djokovic slumped to defeat in only his fourth match of the season, losing 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1 to unseeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the Monte Carlo Masters second round on Tuesday.
The 20-times Grand Slam champion endured a tough start to the year as he was unable to defend his Australian Open title in January after being deported from the country for being unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Djokovic, who only played three matches in Dubai ahead of the Masters 1000 event in Monaco, struggled to find his range early in the contest as Spaniard Davidovich Fokina raced to a 4-1 lead before taking the opening set on Court Rainier III.
The world number 46 grabbed an early break in the second set to go up 3-0 but Djokovic battled back before overcoming issues with a wobbly serve to level the contest in a tight tiebreak.
Fokina then raised his game in the decider, preying on mistakes made by a tiring Djokovic and completed the victory as the Serb found the net.
“This win is so special to me because I grew up watching Nole (Djokovic) and I’m a big fan of his,” Davidovich Fokina, 22, said in his post-match interview.
Djokovic was broken nine times and made 51 unforced errors and Davidovich Fokina said rustiness could have played a part.
“I knew Nole didn’t have the confidence because he didn’t play a lot this season … I had my chances in the beginning of the match and I took them,” he said.
“When he won the second set it was tough mentally, but I work hard to be focused. I had to be prepared for the war.”
Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who did not lose a set en route to the title last year, began his defence with a comfortable 6-3 6-0 win over 2019 champion Fabio Fognini of Italy.
“Great tennis out there. It’s never easy to adjust to the cold and windy conditions … but I came through very well and performed to my best,” third seed Tsitsipas said.
“You are used to the ball bouncing more on clay but there was less of that today … But I was able to generate pace and create good angles.”
Earlier, Taylor Fritz got past Lucas Catarina 6-7(6) 7-6(5) 6-4, Dan Evans beat Benjamin Bonzi 6-0 7-6(4) and David Goffin downed Jiri Lehecka 6-4 6-3 in their first round matches.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)