The Novak Djokovic who stepped on Centre Court in Monte Carlo Monday was a much-improved edition, compared to the lost-looking fellow who went out in the first round in Indian Wells and Miami.
And that has to be encouraging, as the two-time Monte Carlo champion rolled over Dusan Lajovic 6-0, 6-1 in just 56 minutes.
If he was pleased about finally playing without elbow pain in Miami, despite the early exit, he seemed even more positive about his health as he spoke to the media after his victory.
“I thought it was good considering the amount of matches I’ve played in the past almost 12 months. With injury and everything that was happening the past couple months, the post-surgery period, me trying to come back to Indian Wells and Miami, and obviously playing well below the desired level, it wasn’t that easy for me to cope with all of that. At the same time it made me I think even more inspired to come back and try to play the way I played today,” Djokovic said
“Under the circumstances and considering I haven’t played too many official matches, I thought I played well. I thought I started the tournament well. It’s first match on clay,” Djokovic said. “All in all, it was a great start of the tournament.”
Draw gods kind
Of all the qualifiers Djokovic could have drawn for his clay-court debut, it fell to his friend and fellow Serb, Lajovic, to try to stop him.
That was a stroke of good fortune, even if the rest of Djokovic’s draw poses a significantly heightened challenge.
There’s a mystique that a player like Djokovic has among his countrymen. It’s the same for Rafael Nadal against fellow Spaniards, and for Roger Federer against his friend Stan Wawrinka – even after Wawrinka became a Grand Slam champion himself.
It’s the alpha-dog edge; the lesser-accomplished countrymen come on court, for whatever reason, with far less intrinsic belief in victory than their talent might indicate.
Lajovic played that way, especially in the first set. But of course, Djokovic’s play had something to do with that.
Djokovic is 13-1 against Viktor Troicki, with Troicki’s only win coming in their first meeting back in 2007. He’s 5-2 against Janko Tipsarevic. And in his only previous meeting with Lajovic, Djokovic dropped just three games.
Still, Djokovic’s movement looked good. His serve motion seemed more relaxed and effective than it did in the U.S. last month. He was clinical.
It was the first time the Serb, because of the drop in his ranking, failed to get a first-round bye in Monte Carlo since his first appearance in 2006. He lost to then-No. 1 Roger Federer in three sets that year.
Coric next up for Djokovic
The next challenge will come in the second round, where Djokovic will face Croatia’s Borna Coric.
As a teenager, Coric was touted as Djokovic’s stylistic clone, in the way a young Grigor Dimitrov assumed that role with Federer.
These days, that mantel seems to fall on South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, as tennis moves on with its flavors of the month when early promise takes longer to deliver.
Djokovic and Coric have met just once, two years ago in Madrid. Djokovic won 6-2, 6-4 in the second round and went on to win the tournament.
Coric was ranked No. 40 then. Monday, his ranking dropped 11 spots when he didn’t play Marrakech last week (a tournament he won a year ago). So he sits at No. 39, although few would argue that he’s a much better player now, than he was two years ago.
The winner will play the winner between No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev of Russia.
(Screen shots from TennisTV.com)