MONTE CARLO: World number one Novak Djokovic slumped to defeat in only his fourth match of the season, losing 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1 to unseeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the Monte Carlo Masters second round on Tuesday.
The 20-times Grand Slam champion endured a tough start to the year as he was unable to defend his Australian Open title in January after being deported from the country for being unvaccinated against Covid-19.
Djokovic, who only played three matches in Dubai ahead of the Masters 1000 event in Monaco, struggled to find his range early in the contest as Spaniard Davidovich Fokina raced to a 4-1 lead before taking the opening set on Court Rainier III.
The world number 46 grabbed an early break in the second set to go up 3-0 but Djokovic battled back before overcoming issues with a wobbly serve to level the contest in a tight tiebreak.
Fokina then raised his game in the decider, preying on mistakes made by a tiring Djokovic and completed the victory as the Serb found the net.
"This win is so special to me because I grew up watching Nole (Djokovic) and I'm a big fan of his," Davidovich Fokina, 22, said in his post-match interview.
Djokovic was broken nine times and made 51 unforced errors and Davidovich Fokina said rustiness could have played a part.
"I knew Nole didn't have the confidence because he didn't play a lot this season ... I had my chances in the beginning of the match and I took them," he said.
"When he won the second set it was tough mentally, but I work hard to be focused. I had to be prepared for the war."
Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who did not lose a set en route to the title last year, began his defence with a comfortable 6-3 6-0 win over 2019 champion Fabio Fognini of Italy.
"Great tennis out there. It's never easy to adjust to the cold and windy conditions ... but I came through very well and performed to my best," third seed Tsitsipas said.
"You are used to the ball bouncing more on clay but there was less of that today ... But I was able to generate pace and create good angles."
Earlier, Taylor Fritz got past Lucas Catarina 6-7(6) 7-6(5) 6-4, Dan Evans beat Benjamin Bonzi 6-0 7-6(4) and David Goffin downed Jiri Lehecka 6-4 6-3 in their first round matches.