World #1 Novak Djokovic made a winning return with a three-set victory over Marton Fucsovics at the ATP Paris Masters on Tuesday. The 34-year-old Serb bested the Hungarian 6-2 4-6 6-3 in exactly two hours to kickstart his campaign in the final Masters 1000 of 2021.
While it seemed to be smooth sailing for Djokovic after the first set, Fucsovics made his presence felt, refusing to go down in straight sets. One break of serve was enough for the Hungarian to draw level, pushing the contest into the deciding set.
Djokovic’s massive outburst of emotions after a tricky service hold in the third game of the deciding set got him going. The 20-time Grand Slam Champion broke the Hungarian in the next game to race to a 3-1 lead in the 3rd set. While Fucsovics managed to break Djokovic’s serve right back, the Serb seemed to be unfazed, eventually managing to prevail over his upbeat opponent. Djokovic is chasing his sixth Paris Masters title this year. He will take on home hope Gael Monfils in the round of 16 clash on Thursday.
The Frenchman Monfils has been entertaining and resilient in his opening couple of rounds in Paris this week. The 35-year-old recorded two come-from-behind victories in as many matches so far at Paris Masters. In his 2nd Round clash on Wednesday, Monfils was outplayed by his compatriot Adrian Mannarino in the opening set. But he displayed his toughness to outlast the southpaw 2-6 7-6(4) 6-2 in nearly two and half hours on the Center Court.
The veterans Djokovic and Monfils have faced each other on 17 occasions so far on the ATP tour. The Serb dominated their rivalry winning all 17. The latest chapter of their rivalry unfolded in Dubai in 2020 which was an instant classic. Djokovic won 2-6 7-6(8) 6-1 in two hours and 35 minutes in a semifinal contest which saw the tennis of highest order from both men.
The second set was breath-taking and an edge-of-the-seat thriller comprising plenty of lung-bursting rallies. The Serb saved as many as three match points in that second set tiebreak to stay alive in the contest. Monfils eventually ran out of steam in the third set as Djokovic’s ran away with the match.
In his clash against Fuscovics in his opener, Djokovic appeared to be relatively shaky and tentative. He must be sharp and aim to find his ‘A’ game against a tricky and dangerous opponent like Monfils. The Frenchman, on the other hand, has been playing catch-up in his opening couple of rounds and cannot afford to do that against world #1.
Djokovic is often most vulnerable at the start of matches. Monfils must focus on exploring the weakness of his opponent by being proactive and aggressive right from the get-go. With Djokovic and Monfils both biding their time to get to their highest level, the one who raises his level first will have an upper hand.
The Djokovic-Monfils clash on Thursday has all the makings of a blockbuster battle. The Frenchman, who always plays with a smile, is not only a tremendous athlete but also a crowd entertainer. Playing in front of his home crowd at the ATP Paris Masters, one can expect the home hope to receive the massive support of the crowd.
While Djokovic has won three Grand Slam titles this year, he hasn’t won a Masters 1000 title since September 2020 when he won in Rome. The Serb is currently tied alongside Rafael Nadal with 36 Masters 1000 titles and has an opportunity to break that tie this week at Paris Masters. On the other hand, Monfils can draw inspiration from his performance against Djokovic in Dubai as he continues his quest to record his first victory over the Serb.
Can Djokovic defy Monfils’ flair and exuberance to stay in pursuit of the 6th Paris Masters title? Or will the Frenchman, drawing energy from the crowd, stun Djokovic to record his first victory over the Serb in his 18th attempt?
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