Has Novak Djokovic rediscovered his Monte Carlo mojo at the perfect time?

Novak Djokovic started his Monte Carlo campaign with victory
Novak Djokovic looked in fine form in his opening match in Monte Carlo

No man entered Monte Carlo under more of a cloud than Novak Djokovic.

By his exceptionally high standards, the world No 1 came in following a poor start to the season, and a shock split with coach Goran Ivanisevic only cast more doubt over the Serbian.

Having not played since his shock loss to Luca Nardi at Indian Wells – one of the worst losses of his career, by ranking – few knew what to expect from the 24-time Grand Slam champion.

But, as so many have learnt about Djokovic, it is unwise to count him out, and his opening match in Monte Carlo was a strong statement of intent.

He barely broke a sweat in a 6-2, 6-1 win over Roman Safiullin, producing a performance that was undoubtedly his best since the end of last season.

With all eyes on him this week, has Djokovic refound his best Monte Carlo form at a key juncture?

Read More: Novak Djokovic begins to answer some of his doubters with Monte Carlo win

Sublime form

It was a pretty flawless performance from Djokovic all around, with few areas you feel he may need to improve on.

He won 77% of points behind his first serve but a staggering 92% behind his second, and created 19 break points – breaking five times in all.

A Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year, world No 41 Safiullin was not the easiest opening opponent, only making the manner of the win even more impressive.

“I’m very pleased. Even in the games that I lost, I had break points in those games. Really good first match at the start of the clay season,” said Djokovic.

“It has always been a little bit up and down. Last year as well, I started well at this tournament and the second match I lost, so I hope to maintain this rhythm.”

Djokovic next faces Lorenzo Musetti, who beat him at this stage in 2023.

That extended a poor run of form in Monte Carlo for Djokovic – a run he needs to halt this year.

Recent Riviera struggles

Djokovic is not averse to playing in Monte Carlo; he won the title in 2013 and 2015, reached further finals in 2009 and 2012, and has another three semi-finals on his CV.

But since his second triumph he has only made it back to the quarter-final twice in six appearances, not making it to the last four once.

His last quarter-final came in 2019 and since then he has only won three matches at the event, including Tuesday’s win over Safiullin.

A surprise loss to Musetti was preceded by a three-set loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his opening match in 2022, while he lost to Dan Evans in the round of 16 in 2021.

It is not so much that Djokovic lost those matches, but it is the fact he lost to opponents you would back him to beat almost any other time that raises a few eyebrows.

Several mitigating factors could be taken into account when assessing why his form has dipped since 2015; in 2017, for example, he was struggling with an elbow injury, and the following year he was still on the comeback trail from that.

The turnaround between his beloved hard courts and the dirt may also be a factor; this is why his Miami withdrawal may be an advantage.

Read More: Lorenzo Musetti expecting to get a lesson from Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo rematch

More at home?

Djokovic has previously revealed his schedule will now be more tailored, targeting the Grand Slams and a selection of the biggest events outside of that.

And, with his wife Jelena and two young children often not travelling to Australia or the US, it is easier to see why he might be more settled playing in Europe.

He gets to base himself in or around home for the next few months, something that may help mentally, while his recent time off tour may have helped him refocus.

He will have likely started his clay court preparations earlier than most, including key rivals such as Jannik Sinner – the second seed in Monte Carlo, and who won the Masters 1000 event in Miami.

He also gave himself more time to deal with his split from Ivanisevic and have more time working with trusted ally Nenad Zimonjic – a temporary coaching move that may become permanent.

Title charge incoming?

All this means that Djokovic is likely mentally and physically recharged ahead of an arduous clay season – something that makes him incredibly dangerous.

Musetti may have prevailed a year ago but the Italian has not been in sparkling form in 2024, and Djokovic should be considered a heavy favourite for victory on Thursday.

With projected semi-finalist Carlos Alcaraz out with injury, it is now quite hard to back anyone to stop the Serbian from reaching the final.

Monte Carlo may not be a happy hunting ground recently, but Djokovic looks primed for a run to the business end of the tournament.