Injury nightmare ruins Novak Djokovic’s return to America as he has ‘mixed emotions’

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic off court
A smiling Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has waited almost two years to play on American hard courts and his return to centre stage in Cincinnati did not end as he would have hoped.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion may have got a victory against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, but the Serbian did not secure his passage to the third round in the way he would have wanted.

With Davidovich Fokina carrying a back injury into the match after his run to the semi-finals in Toronto last week, he displayed signs of discomfort mid-way through the opening set and called for the trainer.

A lengthy injury time out off the court ended with Davidovich Fokina gingerly coming back on court and clearly struggling to serve at full pace.

He managed to break Djokovic’s serve at 5-3 in the opening set but was quickly broken again and had a discussion with his coach at the change of ends as he considered pulling out of the match with the US Open less than two weeks away.

Davidovich Fokina attempted to play on, but he quickly concluded he could not overcome the back issue as Djokovic was handed his first victory on American soil in the 2021 US Open semi-finals.

“I hope Alejandro bounced back to the court quickly,” said Djokovic in his post-match interview.

“He told me it was a lower back injury that started yesterday. Hopefully, it’s not too big of a deal and he can be ready for New York.

“It’s never the way you like to win, for the crowd as well. They expect to see a battle and great to see a match.

“It’s great for me to come back to the court and get a win, but there are obviously mixed emotions about the way it finished.

“I want to build my form day by day and progress through the tournament by raising my level.”

Djokovic will now face France’s Gael Monfils in the next round, as he looks to build on a stunning 18-0 record against a familiar opponent.

“He is an amazing guy,” added Djokovic of Monfils.

“I truly respect and like him a lot as a person. He brings so much joy to the court and for the fans. He is one of the most charismatic players we have had on the tour over the last two decades.

“It’s great to see him back on court after his struggles with injuries and he is playing as good as ever.

“Everyone talks about my age, but he is a year older than me. So it will be a duel of the veterans tomorrow.”

While Djokovic didn’t get a chance to display his best tennis against Davidovich Fokina, he did appear to have some issues with his serve in the set he was able to play.

The Serb was involved in some lengthy discussions with coach Goran Ivanesvic over his service motion and that may be a facet of his game that he will continue to hone against Monfils.

This win for Djokovic edged him closer to a return to the top of the ATP rankings and his battle with Carlos Alcaraz over the top spot will be one of the big talking points as the latest ATP 1000 event plays out in Cincinnati this week.

Alcaraz will remain at the top of the rankings heading into the US Open if he reaches the final in Cincinnati, but Djokovic will have a chance to reclaim top spot if the Spaniard is beaten before a potential showdown with his great rival on Sunday.

READ MORE: Carlos Alcaraz is just what Novak Djokovic needed says former British No 1