Djokovic strengthens hold on No. 1 in Madrid

Antonio Arenas Men's Tennis, Mutua News, Tennis

Novak Djokovic’s first match at the Mutua Madrid Open earned him more than a place in the next round. The Serb’s win over Gael Monfils maintains his perfect record against the Frenchman with eighteen wins from eighteen and also means he will stay at No. 1 next week. The 20-time Grand Slam champion did not disappoint, cruising through to the last sixteen in the Caja Mágica.

Djokovic needed one hour, 27 minutes and two sets to claim his first win at a Masters 1000 this year (6-3, 6-2). The match was affected by a change from outdoor to ‘indoor’ as the roof was closed in the Manolo Santana Stadium mid-first set due to rain. The day’s play was able to continue thanks to the retractable roofs on the main three courts.

The three-time champion in the Spanish capital (2011, 2016 & 2019) is growing into this European clay swing after appearances in Monte Carlo and Belgrade, where he reached the final. Djokovic held firm in the face of an early assault from Monfils, defending two break points in the third game and another in the fifth before taking the initiative by breaking serve in the seventh. The breakthrough was enough to carry the leader of the world rankings to the first set in 47 minutes.

The second was much more straight forward for the Balkan, who broke his opponent twice on the trot. The Frenchman, not one to lie down easily, forced Djokovic to defend two break points once again in a final game in which a combination of serves and forehands were the determining factor. The player with the record of 367 weeks at the pinnacle of the ATP ranking awaits the winner of the tie between Briton Andy Murray and the Canadian Dennis Shapovalov.

The joy of sufferance

Djokovic received an ovation from the fans in the Manolo Santana Stadium in thanks for his interview in very fluent Spanish. “Thank you Madrid for the welcome and the support in recent years. This tournament is one of the biggest in the world and the fans are great with me, even on the training courts. I’m really excited to be here because I have great memories of the last time I was here and I won”, he said in reference to his absence in 2021 and his third title in 2019.

On the steady improvement of his game and results, the Belgrade native spoke of the importance of perseverance. “People have to understand that even a No. 1 has to suffer on court. I hope to continue this process here and to have a chance to be on court every day training and improving. I’m delighted despite the fact that there are some very tough days”, he admitted.

Regarding the match, Djokovic mentioned some of the keys, like his topspin forehand and returning deeper than normal. “The forehand is the most important shot on clay and today my opponent is a very quick and flexible player. That’s why I had to be very aggressive on court, but also have a strategy of controlling the point. That’s easier said than done though”, he laughed.