By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Smacking the soles of his shoes with his Head racquet face, Novak Djokovic quickly cleaned clots of clay from the soles of his shoes.
Shaking loose the rust from his game was another story.
Playing just his fourth match in three-and-a-half months, Djokovic scattered 51 unforced errors and dropped serve nine times in a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1 loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Afterward, the world No. 1 said given his lack of match play and recent history of early-season struggles transitioning to clay he accepts the defeat as part of the process.
The reigning Roland Garros champion said his mission statement remains unchanged: defend his title in Paris to capture his 21st Grand Slam title and equal rival Rafael Nadal’s record.
One thing about @DjokerNole:
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 12, 2022
“Obviously disappointing to lose a match and to feel this way on the court,” Djokovic told the media in Monte-Carlo. “But again, I’m not gonna stop here. I’m going to keep going and hopefully build my form for Roland Garros. You know, that’s the big goal of the clay season.
“Look, I knew a few days ago when I spoke to you I knew that it’s going to take some time for me to really feel my best on the clay. I mean, that’s historically always been the case. Never played very well in the opening tournaments of the clay season. But it’s okay. You know, obviously it is what it is. I have to accept the defeat and keep working.”
Last spring, Djokovic suffered a shock Monte-Carlo round-of-16 loss to Dan Evans and failed to take his chances in a Belgrade semifinal setback to Aslan Karatsev. But the 34-year-old Serbian got better as the clay season progressed reaching the Rome final, winning Belgrade 2 then battling by Lorenzo Musetti, Matteo Berrettini and king of clay Nadal before rallying from two sets down to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas and win Roland Garros.
Djokovic said today’s defeat is one step on the dirt road to Roland Garros.
“So 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.
“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.”
Photo credit: Getty