Ivan Gakhov earns ‘best reward in tennis’ after setting Novak Djokovic clash

Novak Djokovic screaming

Russian qualifier Ivan Gakhov has earned himself a tidy payday and a rankings boost with a first round victory in Monet Carlo but he insists the best prize is a match with World No 1 Novak Djokovic.

For many, even those regularly on the ATP Tour, the notion that they could face one of, if not the greatest tennis player of all time remains a bit of a pipe dream.

That dream came true for Gakhov when he down American Mackenzie McDonald in the first round at the Monte Carlo Country Club.

Gakhov, who has a career-high of No 186, came into the week ranked 196th in the world and was yet to make a main draw on the ATP Tour in 2023.

The 26-year-old left-hander earned a breakthrough victory over McDonald in three sets.

After taking the opening set tiebreak, Gakhov quickly dropped the second set, however his game did not abandon him and a third set fightback saw him score the hottest date of his life.

“[I am] speechless at the moment. Still cannot [believe it]. Even dreaming, I think it’s tough to understand what just happened the last couple of days. No matter points, money, the best reward is to play the greatest of all time tomorrow. That’s the best I could ask for,” Gakhov told ATP.

Gakhov admits being a huge fan of Djokovic but says he will be out to cause an upset when they meet in the second round.

“I really love Novak, so usually I always cheer for him and he was playing these crazy matches against Rafa and Federer, so it’s really an honor. But I will try to, with respect obviously, face him tomorrow like it’s just another match,” Gakhov said.

“I will have my coach with me and we will just study him as one more player,” he added. “We’re all humans, I know it. Sometimes I think Novak is not, but we all have our weak points and we will try to just find out where it is and I will try to do my best.”

Djokovic will play his first match on the ATP Tour since his Dubai semi-final loss when he takes on Gakhov on Tuesday in Monte Carlo.

The world No 1 has featured in just three tournaments so far this season, winning the Adelaide International 1 and Australian Open before Medvedev handed him his first loss in Dubai.

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