World No.2 Novak Djokovic had to dig deep in his opening round match at the Monte Carlo Masters, as a fired-up Gilles Simon pushed the Serbian all the way in a three-set match that lasted over two and half hours on Tuesday.
The final scoreline read 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in Djokovic’s favour but it doesn't do justice to the tension in the match, especially in the deciding set.
Simon was serving for the match at 5-4, but somehow Djokovic clawed his way back to avoid an embarrassing second-round exit (He was given a first-round bye).
The tie had begun in a see-saw manner, with both players breaking in the opening set before Djokovic accelerated to take a 5-3 advantage which he then converted without much fuss.
Fans expecting to see Djokovic demolish his opponent, were sorely disappointed as Simon started to play some aggressive tennis, forcing his Serbian opponent to make some uncharacteristic mistakes. Despite being broken early in the second set, the Frenchman responded with two breaks of his own to force the tie into a deciding third set.
It is the ‘home’ tournament for Djokovic, who resides in Monte Carlo and despite the vociferous support, the 29-year-old was unable to wrest the advantage as both players were broken in successive games.
It was Simon’s brilliant forehand which sizzled down the line to give him a 5-4 lead and serve for the match. Djokovic had other ideas, however, and rattled off three points in quick succession to break back into the tie. He then won the next two games to seal his victory and will face the winner of either Pablo Carreno Busta or Karen Khachanov in the round of 16.
Djokovic is now 11-1 head -to-head against the Frenchman and his record at Monte Carlo reads at 29-8, having won the title twice (2013 and 2017).
Earlier in the day, 10th seed David Goffin recovered from a 1-5 deficit in the first set to beat Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-1 and now faces the winner of the Dominic Thiem-Robin Haase match. Haase overcame lucky loser Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.