Novak Djokovic suffers ‘physical collapse’ in new setback at Monte Carlo Masters

In an extraordinary reversal of tennis logic, Novak Djokovic confessed that his stamina had let him down after he bombed out of the Monte Carlo Masters in the second round.

“I fought my way through to the third set,” Djokovic told reporters after his 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 defeat at the hands of world No46 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. “But then I collapsed physically. I just couldn’t move anymore.”

The fact that Djokovic lacked timing and accuracy was not wholly surprising. Despite standing on top of the rankings ladder, he had only played three previous matches in 2022 because of his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid. And the last of those was 47 days ago.

But the manner of Djokovic’s defeat felt alien to those who have watched him outlast all-comers for the past decade. This is a man, remember, who beat Andy Murray over five hours in the 2012 Australian Open semi-final, and then walked back on court two days later to win a six-hour final against Rafael Nadal.

Even at 34, Djokovic still looks as lean and perfectly conditioned as he did a decade ago. But when it came to the deciding set of today’s match, he faded dramatically. This was all the more surprising because the duration of the contest – 2hr 54min – would barely have constituted a warm-up during his salad days.

“I just ran out of the gas completely,” Djokovic explained afterwards. “Just couldn’t really stay in the rally with him. If you can’t stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.

“I don’t like that kind of feeling I experienced in the third [set], but I’m going to look with my team into reasons why that was the case and go back to the drawing board. Hopefully next week will be better in Belgrade.”

Djokovic’s sluggish movement was only accentuated by the way Davidovich Fokina kept bouncing around like a jack in the box, even throwing himself onto the court and grazing his knees in his desperation to retrieve every ball.

At the side of the court, Djokovic’s coaching staff – who are led by the former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic – looked as baffled by what they were seeing as everyone else. It will be interesting to see how this story develops. Djokovic is due to play in his own home tournament of Belgrade next week. A relatively low-level ATP 250 event, this will feature only one other top-ten player in Andrey Rublev, and should offer a supportive environment in which Djokovic can recover some form.

Still, Djokovic is right to be concerned about what happened in his adopted home town of Monte Carlo. Because, if he continues to lack staying power, that will significantly reduce the fear factor that he exerts over the rest of the field.

A huge part of Djokovic’s legend is the fact that he – and everyone else – has traditionally known that there is no point trying to trade groundstrokes with him, because he never misses, and never runs out of energy.

As a result, the onus is always on Djokovic’s opponent to make the running, to go for glory. Were that advantage to wane, however, rivals would be able to play within themselves a little more. That would change the whole dynamic, and make his life on court significantly more difficult.

Meanwhile the former world No1 Kim Clijsters said today that she has stepped back from competitive tennis for a third time. Clijsters – who is 38 – had announced a second comeback in September 2019 but the pandemic restricted her to just five matches in this short coda to her career, all of them defeats.

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