Djokovic Makes Winning Return In Monte-Carlo
The World No. 1 faced a spirited challenge rom World No. 198 Ivan Gakhov and was in danger of losing the opening set. But Djokovic navigated the big moments well to reach the third round with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win.
"It was probably, if you can call it this way, an ugly tennis win for me today," Djokovic said in his on-court interview. "I haven't played my best, particularly in the first set. And I kind of expected that that was going to happen in a way with swirly conditions, a lot of wind today, changing directions.
"It's different practising and then playing an official match on clay, [where] I guess no two bounces are the same. It's always quite unpredictable what's going to happen. But all in all, I'm just pleased with the way I held my nerves I think in the important moments and I managed to clinch the two-set win."
Gakhov was the fourth alternate into the qualifying field and took full advantage of the opportunity to reach the main draw and earn his first ATP Tour win to advance to the second round. But Djokovic was playing his 1,254th tour-level match compared to Gakhov's third, and that experience paid dividends in the critical moments.
"I never saw Ivan play before today to be honest. I've seen a little bit of his video from yesterday's match and that's all," Djokovic said. "That was not the best preparation, but he's a young player coming up from the Challenger Tour and he just was on a roll."
Djokovic was not at his soaring best in his first match since losing to Daniil Medvedev in the Dubai semi-finals in early March. But when in trouble serving at 5-5, 0/30, the Serbian calmly served and volleyed behind a second serve and hit a tremendous drop volley from his shoestrings to get out of trouble.
Gakhov still had an opportunity to take the opener in the tie-break against the player he told ATPTour.com is the “greatest of all time” on Monday. But the 26-year-old relinquished a mini break with a mishit forehand at 2/3 and never was able to recover.
The lefty played beyond his No. 161 Pepperstone ATP Live Ranking, showing no fear of the moment and using his aggressive forehand to keep Djokovic at bay. But the Serbian surged through the end of the second set and saved three of the four break points he faced in the match. The pair shared a warm moment at the net in which Gakhov told the top seed he had hoped to play him once.
"He knows how to play, no doubt about it. Big serve, forehand, flat backhand stepping in," Djokovic said. "So it was a very tricky opponent for today, but I'm glad I overcame the challenge."