Carlos Alcaraz Wins US Open Title to Become Youngest Man to Lead ATP Rankings

Carlos Alcaraz has doubled up on his significant achievements…

The 19-year-old Spanish tennis player defeated Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3 to claim his first Grand Slam title at the US Open, in his first appearance in a Grand Slam final no less.

Carlos AlcarazIn the process, Alcaraz is now the No. 1 player in men’s tennis.

Alcaraz used his combination of moxie and maturity to Ruud for the trophy at Flushing Meadows and become the youngest man to lead the ATP rankings.

“Well, this is something that I dreamed of since I was a kid,” said Alcaraz, whom folks of a certain age might still consider a kid. “It’s something I worked really, really hard [for]. It’s tough to talk right now. A lot of emotions.”

Appearing in his eighth major tournament and second at Flushing Meadows, Alcaraz has attracted plenty of attention as someone considered the next big thing in men’s tennis.

He’s the youngest man to win a major title since Rafael Nadal was the same age at the 2005 French Open, and the youngest at the US Open since 19-year-old Pete Sampras in 1990.

“He’s one of these few rare talents that comes up every now and then in sports. That’s what it seems like,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway. “Let’s see how his career develops, but it’s going all in the right direction.”

Alcaraz was serenaded by choruses of “Ole, Ole, Ole! Carlos!” that reverberated off the closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium — and he often motioned to the supportive spectators to get louder.

He only briefly showed signs of fatigue from having to get through three consecutive five-setters to reach the title match, something no one had done in New York in 30 years. He spent a total of 23 hours, 40 minutes on court in the tournament, the most by any men’s player during any one major tournament since the start of 2000.

Alcaraz went five sets against 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in the fourth round, ending at 2:23 a.m. Tuesday; against Jannik Sinner in the quarterfinals, a 5-hour, 15-minute thriller that ended at 2:50 a.m. Friday after Alcaraz needed to save a match point; and against Frances Tiafoe in the semifinals.

“You have to give everything on court. You have to give everything you have inside. I worked really, really hard to earn it,” Alcaraz said after the final. “It’s not time to be tired.”

This was not a stroll to the finish, though.

Alcaraz dropped the second set and faced a pair of set points while down 6-5 in the third. But he erased each of those point-from-the-set opportunities for Ruud with the sorts of quick-reflex, soft-hand volleys he repeatedly displayed. And with help from a series of shanked shots by a tight-looking Ruud in the ensuing tiebreaker, Alcaraz surged to the end of that set.

“He just played too good on those points. We’ve seen it many times before: He steps up when he needs to,” Ruud said. ‘When it’s close, he pulls out great shots.”

One break in the fourth was all it took for Alcaraz to seal the victory in the only Grand Slam final between two players seeking both a first major championship and the top spot in the ATP’s computerized rankings, which date to 1973.

The winner was guaranteed to be first in Monday’s rankings; the loser was guaranteed to be second.

“Both Carlos and I, we knew what we were playing for. We knew what was at stake,” Ruud said. “I think it’s fitting. I’m disappointed, of course, that I’m not No. 1, but No. 2 is not too bad, either.”

He is now 0-2 in Slam finals after being runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in June.

Ruud stood way back near the wall to return serve, but also during the course of points, much more so than Alcaraz, who attacked when he could. Alcaraz went after Ruud’s weaker side, the backhand, and found success that way, especially while serving.

If nothing else, Ruud gets the sportsmanship award for conceding a point he knew he didn’t deserve. It came while he was trailing 4-3 in the first set; he raced forward to a short ball that bounced twice before Ruud’s racket touched it.

Play continued, and Alcaraz hesitated and then flubbed his response. But Ruud told the chair umpire what had happened, giving the point to Alcaraz, who gave his foe a thumbs-up and applauded right along with the spectators to acknowledge the move.

Alcaraz certainly seems to be a rare talent, possessing an enviable all-court game, a blend of groundstroke power with a willingness to push forward and close points with his volleying ability. He won 34 of 45 points when he went to the net Sunday. He is a threat while serving — he delivered 14 aces at up to 128 mph on Sunday — and returning, earning 11 break points, converting three.

Alcaraz, Ruud said, showed “incredible fighting spirit and will to win.”

Make no mistake: Ruud is no slouch, either. There’s a reason he is the youngest man since Nadal to get to two major finals in one season and managed to win a 55-shot point, the longest of the tournament, in the semifinals Friday.

But this was Alcaraz’s time to shine under the lights.

For context on the rankings, it is helpful to know that Novak Djokovic did not play at the US Open or Australian Open this year, unable to enter those countries because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, and did not receive any ranking boost for his Wimbledon championship because no points were on offer for anyone after the All England Club banned athletes from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine.

Regardless of the circumstances, it is significant that Alcaraz is the first male teenager at No. 1. No one else did it. Not Nadal, not Djokovic, not Federer, not Sampras. No one.

When one last service winner glanced off Ruud’s frame, Alcaraz dropped to his back on the court, then rolled over onto his stomach, covering his face with his hands. Then he went into the stands for hugs with his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1 himself who won the French Open in 2003 and reached the final of that year’s US Open, and others, crying all the while.

You get to No. 1 for the first time only once. You win a first Grand Slam title only once. Many folks expect Alcaraz to be celebrating these sorts of feats for years to come.

Rafael Nadal Defeats Casper Ruud to Claim 14th French Open Title

Rafael Nadal has officially reclaimed his King of Clay title…

The 36-year-old Spanish tennis star overwhelmed Casper Ruud in straight sets on Sunday to win his record-extending 14th French Open championship and 22nd Grand Slam title.

Rafael NadalBut he revealed after the match that he needed an injection to his ailing left foot just to be able to play.

Nadal told Eurosport after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory that he received an injection to numb his foot for Sunday’s final.

“The preparation was not ideal,” he said. “I had a stress fracture of the rib, then I have the foot [pain], which stays there all the time. I had my doctor here with me — I don’t know how to say in English what we did. We played with no feeling on the foot, we played with an injection in the nerve so the foot was asleep — that’s why I was able to play.”

During the trophy ceremony, Nadal thanked his family and support team for helping him, because otherwise, he would have needed to “retire much before.”

“I don’t know what can happen in the future,” Nadal told the crowd, “but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going.”

Nadal revealed during his media availability after the match that he’d been undergoing frequent injections into a nerve throughout the past two weeks at Roland Garros, serving to numb the pain in his foot caused by Mueller-Weiss syndrome. It is not a long-term solution to the chronic foot problem, and he is expected to visit a specialist next week to undergo a fresh procedure — a radiofrequency nerve ablation.

The success of that procedure will dictate whether he plays Wimbledon or not.

“I’m going to be in Wimbledon if my body is ready to be in Wimbledon,” Nadal said. “That’s it. Wimbledon is not a tournament that I want to miss. I think nobody want to miss Wimbledon. I love Wimbledon.”

He said if the procedure doesn’t work, he’ll have to decide if he’s ready to undergo a major surgery with no guarantee that it will be successful and might require a prolonged recovery time.

But he did confirm he would not go through the whole process of getting injections daily to get him through Wimbledon.

“Wimbledon is a priority, always [has] been a priority. If I am able to play with anti-inflammatories? Yes. To play with anaesthetic injections? No. I don’t want to put myself in that position again. Can happen once, but no, is not a philosophy of life that I want to follow.

“So let’s see. I am always a positive guy, and I always expect things going the right way. So let’s be confident, and let’s be positive. Then let’s see what’s going on.”

Nadal’s victory came two days after his 36th birthday and made him the oldest title winner in the history of the clay-court tournament. The oldest champion in tournament history had been Andres Gimeno, who was 34 when he won in 1972.

Ruud led 3-1 in the second set, a deficit that spurred Nadal to raise his level — he took the last 11 games. Nadal’s six games lost Sunday are tied for his second fewest in a major final. He has won six major finals in which he has conceded fewer than 10 games, breaking a tie with Richard Sears for the most by any man in tennis history.

Given his age, and of more concern, the chronic pain in his left foot that has been an off-and-on problem for years, Nadal has said repeatedly in recent days that he can never be sure whether each match at Court Philippe Chatrier might be his last.

He played crisply and cleanly, accumulating more than twice as many winners as Ruud, 37 to 16. Nadal also committed fewer unforced errors, making just 16 to Ruud’s 26.

When it ended with a down-the-line backhand from Nadal, he chucked his racket to the red clay he loves so much and covered his face with the taped-up fingers on both of his hands.

The Spanish star’s first triumph in Paris came in 2005 at age 19. No man or woman ever has won the singles trophy at any major event more times than his 14 in Paris. And no man has won more Grand Slam titles than Nadal.

He is two ahead of rivals Roger Federer, who hasn’t played in almost a year after a series of knee operations, and Novak Djokovic, who missed the Australian Open in January because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

 

For all that he has accomplished already, Nadal now has done something he never managed previously: He is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam thanks to titles at the Australian Open and French Open in the same season.

Nadal improved to 14-0 in finals at Roland Garros and 112-3 overall at his favorite tournament.

“You are a true inspiration for me, for everyone who follows tennis around the world,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway participating in his first Grand Slam final, “so I hope — we all hope — that you will continue for some more time.”

When the players met at the net for the prematch coin toss, the first chants of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” rang out in the 15,000-seat stadium. There would be more such choruses. Ruud heard his own support, especially when he briefly went up in the second set, with some in the stands marking points he won with drawn-out pronouncements of his last name, “Ruuuuuuud,” that sounded as if they might be booing.

Ruud considers Nadal his idol. He recalls watching all of Nadal’s past finals in Paris on TV. He has trained at Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca.

They have played countless practice sets together there with nothing more at stake than bragging rights. Nadal usually won those, and Ruud joked the other day that’s because he was trying to be a polite guest.

The two had never met in a real match until Sunday, when a championship, money, ranking points, prestige and a piece of history were on the line. And Nadal demonstrated, as he has so often, why he’s known as the King of Clay — and among the game’s greatest ever.

“We all know what a champion you are, and today I got to feel how it is to play against you in a final. And it’s not easy,” Ruud said. “I’m not the first victim. I know that there have been many before.”

Nadal can now place this latest Coupe des Mousquetaires alongside the trophies he gathered at Roland Garros from 2005 to ’08, 2010 to ’14 and 2017 to ’20. He has also won the US Open four times and the Australian Open and Wimbledon twice apiece.

“For me, personally, it’s very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” Nadal said. “It’s something that I, for sure, never believed — to be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most favorite court of my career, one more time in the final. It means a lot to me. Means everything.”

Caroline Garcia & Teammate Kristina Mladenovic Earn Second French Open Women’s Doubles Title

Six years later, Caroline Garcia is once again a French Open women’s doubles champion…

The 28-year-old part-Spanish French player and her compatriot Kristina Mladenovic produced an impressive comeback in the French Open women’s doubles final to lift their first team title since 2016.

Caroline Garcia, French Open, Roland Garros, Kristina MladenovicIn the French Open women’s doubles final, home favorites Garcia and Mladenovic recovered from a slow start to beat USA’s Cori Gauff and Jessica Pegula 2-6 6-3 6-2.

Garcia and Mladenovic, who lifted their first Grand Slam team title at Roland Garros in 2016, have now won their fifth team title. In 2016, Garcia and Mladenovic lifted four team titles. Six years after winning their first Grand Slam title as a pair, Garcia and Mladenovic teamed up again at Roland Garros.

Garcia and Mladenovic made it all the way once again and now they are 12-0 as a pair at Roland Garros.

Garcia and Mladenovic had the first break points of the match but they missed out on a total of five break points in the second game.

Garcia and Mladenovic paid the price for not closing in on their break points chances as Gauff and Pegula claimed the first break of the match in the third game to open a 2-1 lead. Garcia and Mladenovic missed out on two more break points in the sixth game, before Gauff and Pegula earned their second break in the seventh game to open a 5-2 lead.

In the eighth game, Gauff and Pegula routinely served out for the first set. After losing the first set, Garcia and Mladenovic bounced back at the start of the second set as they claimed back-to-back breaks and opened a 4-0 lead.

Gauff and Pegula refused to quit as they responded with back-to-back breaks and cut the deficit to 3-4. Blowing a two-break lead didn’t impact Garcia and Mladenovic, who earned their third break of the set in the eighth game, before serving out for a decider in the following game.

Gauff and Pegula were visibly down after losing the second set as Garcia and Mladenovic took the advantage of it and opened a 4-0 lead in the third set. Two breaks of serve were more than enough for Garcia and Mladenovic as they served out the eighth game to complete a big comeback win.

Marcelo Arevalo Becomes First Central American Man to Win Grand Slam Title with French Open Men’s Doubles Victory

Marcelo Arevalo has earned a place in tennis history…

The 31-year-old Salvadoran professional tennis player and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands won the French Open men’s doubles tennis championship by beating Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the U.S. 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the final.

Marcelo Arevalo, Jean-Julien Rojer

According to the International Tennis Federation, Arevalo is the first man from Central America to win a Grand Slam title.

Meanwhile, 41-year-old Rojer is the oldest Grand Slam men’s doubles champion in the Open era. He also won the 2017 US Open title with Horia Tecau.

Arevalo and Rojer were seeded 12th. Dodig and Krajicek were not seeded.

Dodig and Krajicek held three championship points at 6-5 in the second set but were unable to convert any.

Arevalo had previously won five career ATP Tour doubles titles.

Rafael Nadal Edges Past Novak Djokovic to Reach French Open Semifinals

Rafael Nadal is one step closer to reclaiming his throne…

The 35-year-old Spanish tennis star, known as the King of Clay, claimed a quarterfinal victory over longtime rival Novak Djokovic that began in May and ended in June at Roland Garros.

Rafael NadalWith a mix of brilliant shot-making and his trademark resilience, Nadal got past the top-seeded defending French Open champion Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) to move a step closer to his 14th championship at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament and what would be a 22nd major trophy overall, adding to records that he already owns.

“One of those magic nights for me,” Nadal said.

The match began a little past 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, and concluded more than four hours later, after 1 a.m. Wednesday, June 1.

The bracket said this was a quarterfinal, but it felt like a final — from the quality of play to the quality of effort, from the anticipation that preceded it to the atmosphere that enveloped it.

The only missing ingredient: There was no trophy handed to the winner.

Nadal turns 36 on Friday, when he’ll face third-seeded Alexander Zverev in the semifinals. When the subject of Nadal’s future was brought up during his on-court interview, he smiled.

“See you, by the way, in two days,” Nadal said. “That’s the only thing that I can say.”

It’ll be difficult for any match the rest of the way to live up to this one.

“I lost to a better player today,” said Djokovic, who had won 22 sets in a row until the 49-minute opener against Nadal. “Had my chances. Didn’t use them. That’s it.”

This showdown was their 59th, more than any other two men have played against each other in the Open era. Nadal narrowed Djokovic’s series lead to 30-29 while improving to 8-2 against his rival at Roland Garros.

Nadal is now 110-3 for his career at the place. Two of those losses came against Djokovic, including in last year’s semifinals. This time, Nadal made sure Djokovic remains behind him in the Slam count with 20. Nadal broke their three-way tie with Roger Federer at that number by capturing the Australian Open in January, when Djokovic was not able to play because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Leylah Fernandez Defeats Amanda Anisimova to Reach Her First-Ever French Open Quarterfinals

It’s a new personal best for Leylah Fernandez at the French Open

The 19-year-old half-Ecuadorian Canadian tennis player outlasted USA’s Amanda Anisimova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in their fourth-round match on Sunday in Paris, France to reach her first-ever quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

Leylah FernandezFernandez’s opportunities abound in a decimated women’s singles draw that lost nine of its top 10 seeds in the first week.

Only world No. 1 Iga Swiatek remains. She’s in the other half, and the two could only meet in the final.

“It was a very hard match, an incredible match for the both of us. I think we brought a high level,” Fernandez said of the win over Anisimova.

The American was a women’s singles semifinalist at age 17, in 2019, the year 16-year-old Fernandez won the junior girls’ title.

Since then, their careers have gone in somewhat opposite directions.

“I’m just glad that today I was able to fight through some difficult moments and just enjoy the game as much as possible,” Fernandez added.

Fernandez, now based in Florida, will next face No. 59 ranked Martina Trevisan, who beat Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-6 (10), 7-5 in the fourth round on Sunday.

Fernandez is the first Canadian woman to make the Roland Garros quarterfinals since Eugenie Bouchard in 2014.

Bernabe Zapata Miralles Defeats John Isner to Reach Fourth Round at French Open

Bernabe Zapata Miralles is continuing to make waves (and beat his personal best) at Roland Garros

The 25-year-old Spanish tennis player, a qualifier at this year’s tournament, defeated USA’s John Isner, the No 23 seed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 [5], 6-3 to move into the Round of 16 at the French Open.

Bernabe Zapata Miralles Zapata Miralles’ fourth round showing is now his best at a Grand Slam tournament to date. His previous best was the second round at the 2021 US Open.

Zapata Miralles, ranked No. 131 in the world, will next play Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the No 3 seed.

Zapata Mirallas defeated Israel’s Dudi Sela (6-3, 6-0), Portugal’s Gastao Elias (6-1, 6-1), Italy’s Luca Nardi (3-6, 6-4, 6-1), American wildcard Michael Mmoh (7-6 [7], 6-3, 7-5) and USA’s Taylor Fritz, the No 13 seed (3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3) to get to this point.

Earlier in the tournament, Isner, ranked No 26, edged out France’s Quentin Halys (7-6 [3], 4-6, 7-6 [1], 7-6 [6]) and French wildcard Gregoire Barrere (6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 [5]).

Carlos Alcaraz Earns Landmark Win Over Idol Rafael Nadal at Madrid Open

Carlos Alcaraz has taken out his idol…

In a clash of generations, the 19-year-old Spanish teenage tennis sensation overcame an injury to defeat his idol Rafael Nadal 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 in the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Friday.

Carlos AlcarazAlcaraz recovered from a bad ankle twist early in the second set to earn his first victory against the 21-time Grand Slam champion, marking what could be the beginning of a changing of the guard in Spanish tennis.

Alcaraz considered by many in Spain as Nadal’s successor will play his first Madrid semifinal against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who eased past Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-4.

“It’s obvious there is [a change in guard],” Nadal said. “He turned 19 yesterday, I’m almost 36 years old. If [the change] begins today or not, we will find out in the next months. I’m happy for him. He was better than me in several aspects of the game.”

It was Nadal’s first loss to a Spanish competitor in six years, since falling to Fernando Verdasco at the 2016 Australian Open. He had a 138-21 record against his countrymen entering the match against Alcaraz.

“It means a lot to me to beat Rafa, to beat the best player in the history on clay,” Alcaraz said. “This is the result of all the hard work I’ve done.”

Still far from his best form after a six-week injury layoff, Nadal predicted a hard time keeping up with the energy of Alcaraz. And he was right early on, as the youngster overpowered him to easily win the first set with three breaks.

But Alcaraz lost momentum after needing medical attention for the ankle, losing 20 of the next 22 points as Nadal cruised through the second set.

The match also was interrupted in the second set after a fan became ill in the stands of the Caja Mágica center court.

Both players got off to a great start this season as they seek their fourth title of the year, which would be the most on tour.

Nadal’s run was hampered by a rib stress fracture suffered in his semifinal win against Alcaraz in Indian Wells. His other win against the ninth-ranked Alcaraz came in Madrid last year, when the youngster was just starting to attract everyone’s attention.

Nadal saved four match points to get past David Goffin in a third-round match that lasted more than three hours on Thursday.

He said it was a positive balance for him after winning two matches following his injury layoff.

“It’s an easy loss to digest in that regard, because we knew what we could expect here,” Nadal said. “My only dream is (to) be in Paris (for the French Open) healthy enough and physically good enough to compete at the highest level possible.”

Paula Badosa Overtakes Barbora Krejcikova as WTA’s No. 2 Player in the World

Paula Badosa is movin’ on up…

The 24-year-old Spanish tennis player has overtaken French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova as the No.2 player in the world.

Paula BadosaBadosa has been chasing the World No.2 ranking for weeks, only to come one match short.

But on Friday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Badosa finally came through after defeating Ons Jabeur to advance to the semifinals. Badosa celebrated the feat by drawing a heart and the number two on the center court clay.

“I was aware [I was close] for weeks, I’m not going to lie,” Badosa told WTA Insider after the win. “In Charleston, I needed one more match: nothing. In Miami, one more match: I had to retire.

“It was a goal and I really wanted to be in that position. For me, it’s a dream come true so I was really going after it. So I’m really happy that today I could do it and I could leave that mental block out of it from the match and I could play pretty well. I think I played a high-level match.”

This time 12 months ago, Badosa was ranked No.62 and just on the verge of her climb up the rankings. Her rise began with a run to the Madrid Open semifinals as a wildcard, her first such run at a WTA 1000 event, and she capitalized on her momentum by winning her first WTA title in Belgrade and first quarterfinal run at a Slam at the French Open.

But Badosa’s ascent to the upper echelons of the game came in the fall when she captured her biggest title in Indian Wells to break into the Top 10 and qualify for the WTA Finals. She finished the season ranked a career-high No.8.

Now came the challenge of backing up her breakout season.

Badosa was open about dealing with the new set of pressure and expectations, but she has handled her newfound status incredibly well. Badosa began the season by proving she wasn’t just a clay-court wonder, winning the title in Sydney.  She went on to make the Indian Wells semifinals and Miami quarterfinals last month.

“I was talking with my coach about Iga Swiatek because I remember last year she was suffering a lot with every match,” Badosa said. “I remember seeing her crying on the court.

“But at the beginning of this year I was talking to my coach and I said I totally understand now what she’s feeling. Because at the beginning I didn’t know what was happening. This happens to me now. I wanted to cry in the third set today. There’s so much pressure on you and at the end of the day, you’re all alone on the court. It’s a very mental game. But I’m happy I’m getting through it.”

Badosa has not taken her high-level consistency for granted. That’s been the key to her success.

“A lot of people are maybe used to seeing me winning matches, but it’s not a normal thing,” Badosa said. “Mentally, it’s changed. I feel pressure, I feel expectations, like you have to do a minimum of results to have people feel happy and calm. It’s a big change. And I feel it with my opponents. They play against me, and maybe I’m a little bit more tight and they play loose.

“Now I admire even more my idols because it’s a very tough process. But I think I’m doing it well and I’m trying to focus on myself and what I have to do in that moment and not think about those things. I know that maybe now I’m doing well, but next week I can lose against anyone because the level is very high. The most important is to stay humble and work, have a good relationship like I have with my team and keep going.”

In the semifinals, Badosa los to her recent doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka.

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Pulls Off Upset Win Against Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo Masters

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is celebrating an upset…

The 22-year-old Spanish professional tennis player pulled off a stunning victory against Novak Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Alejandro Davidovich FokinaDavidovich Fokina stunned the top-ranked Serb 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 in the second round to hand Djokovic another setback as he tries to move on from the controversy surrounding his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

It makes for rare back-to-back losses for Djokovic, who had not played since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships in February — his only previous tournament this year after he was barred from playing at the Australian Open.

Djokovic struggled from the start as the 46th-ranked Spaniard broke him early to pull ahead 4-1 before another break handed him the first set. Davidovich Fokina kept up the pressure and led 3-0 in the second before Djokovic clawed back. But the Serb continued to struggle on his serve and was broken three times in the decider.

“He was the better player,” Djokovic said. “I was hanging on the ropes the entire match.”

The Serb said he was too exhausted to put up a fight in the third set.

“I collapsed,” Djokovic said. “I just ran out of gas completely … If you can’t stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.”

Djokovic had beaten Davidovich Fokina in straight sets twice last year, in Rome and at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games.

Djokovic could not defend his Australian Open title in January after he was deported from the country for not being vaccinated. He had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States for the same reason.

The authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing people who aren’t vaccinated into the country and back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.

That means Djokovic will be able to play at the French Open, which remains his “big goal of the clay season.”

“I knew that it’s going to take some time for me to really feel my best on the clay,” Djokovic said. “I have to accept defeat and keep working … and hopefully build my form for Roland Garros.”

The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.

In the meantime, Davidovich Fokina is moving on to the Round of 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters.