Novak Djokovic’s loss in Monte-Carlo should not be seen as a sign that he will struggle at Roland Garros
Novak Djokovic returned to action at the Monte-Carlo Masters and lost to World No. 46 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in three sets. This comes two months after his previous match in Dubai in February, where he lost to Jiri Vesely in the quarterfinals.
While this was an uncharacteristic and error-prone display from the 20-time Grand Slam champion that saw him lose serve nine times and hit 51 unforced errors, it’s too soon to ring the alarm bells just yet.
The simplest reason is the number of matches under the 34-year-old’s belt this year, or the lack thereof. Having played only three matches in the first three months of the year, it was always going to be tough for the World No. 1 to hit the ground running in Monte-Carlo.
Then there is the matter of the opposition. Davidovich Fokina was probably the last player the Serb would have wanted to face on clay on his return to the tour. The Spaniard’s acrobatic style of play lends itself to this surface more than any other. The World No. 46’s willingness to throw himself on the line at every point also meant that the Serb was under pressure for almost the entirety of the match.
Finally, there is Novak Djokovic’s history at Monte-Carlo. The 20-time Grand Slam champion is at the top of the list of players who struggle whenever the conditions get windy, something that is unavoidable on the French Riviera.
Despite his two title runs at the tournament, the Monte-Carlo Masters has not been an event where the World No. 1 has prospered much. In 15 appearances, the 34-year-old has exited before the quarterfinals on six occasions till date. With a win percentage of only 73%, it is the Masters 1000 event where Djokovic has been the least successful over the years.
Another statistic that will make the World No. 1’s fans relieved is that in both years he went on to win the French Open (2016 and 2021) he had performed terribly at Monte-Carlo. The 2016 edition witnessed the Serb falling in the second round to Jiri Vesely, while Dan Evans took him out in the third round in 2021.
Granted, he had played a near-full schedule both those years prior to that, winning the Australian Open in 2021 and winning the Australian Open as well as the Sunshine Double in 2016, but the point still stands. Djokovic’s success at Roland Garros hasn’t been dependent on how he fares in Monte-Carlo, even under the best of circumstances.
Correlation does not mean causation, but taking all the aforementioned factors into consideration, it would be highly unfair on Djokovic to write him off at the French Open based on this one-off loss. The Serb looked as rusty as he has ever been on Tuesday, and would certainly lose his opener at the French Open too if he played the same. The possibility of that is slim if Djokovic plays the full claycourt swing.
In the exceptional case that has been his 2022 season, Monte-Carlo should be considered nothing more than a minor blip on the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s road to defending his title in Paris. If anything, the Serb has earned the right to treat it as a higher-stakes-than-usual practice session that he can then use to kickstart his journey on clay.
Novak Djokovic has three more clay tournaments to look forward to before Roland Garros kicks off
Novak Djokovic has three more tournaments to fine tune himself for the French Open
Now that Monte-Carlo is out of the way, Novak Djokovic has three more clay tournaments to properly prepare himself for the French Open. First up is the Serbia Open next week, where the Serb will look to win his third title in front of his home fans.
Djokovic will next play at the Madrid Masters from May 1-8, where he is a three-time winner. It could turn out to be the first tournament of the year where the 20-time Grand Slam champion could come up against Rafael Nadal, provided the Spaniard can recover in time from his rib injury.
The 34-year-old will finally travel to Italy in pursuit of his sixth title at the Rome Masters, held from May 8 to 15. The Serb reached the final in 2021 and lost to Nadal, but then had his revenge on the Mallorcan a couple of weeks later at the French Open in the semifinal.