Belgrade | Djokovic struggles in home tournament

He may be the best player in the world and twice champion of the Serbian Open but in his opening match in Belgrade this year, he had to battle his way past Laslo Djere in Belgrade to prevent suffering a third consecutive loss.

But it's a positive difference compared to Monte Carlo where I was not able to hold on physically in the third set Novak Djokovic

However, despite losing the first set and then trailing 5-3 in the second to his countryman, the top-seeded Djokovic turned the match around to score a satisfying, albeit debilitating 2-6 7-6(6) 7-6(4) victory after three-hours and 23-minutes on clay.

The 50th-ranked Djere had taken control of the match by racing through the opening set raced and securing a break in the seventh game of the second only for Djokovic to immediately recover to force a decider after levelling the match on his sixth set point in the tie-break.

The pairs exchanged breaks at the start of the third with Djokovic saving two break points in the eighth game and surviving a marathon 11th game where he lost out on two break points, but finally closed it out in the second tie-break on his first match point.

For Djokovic, the 250 series ATP event is only the third he has played since being deported from Australia for his unvaccinated status which also prevented him from making appearances at the Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Serbian, a 20-time grand slam champion, was accepted into the Monte Carlo Masters but lost in his first match to the then unheralded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, the unseeded Spaniard who went on to reach the final itself.

And as Djkovic admitted in his post-match interview: “Djere was the better player today, he controlled the game, attacked, I didn’t feel good about my game, I served badly.

“But it’s a positive difference compared to Monte Carlo where I was not able to hold on physically in the third set.”

For Djokovic, whose main objective in life would seem to be overtaking Rafa Nadal’s record of 21 Grand Slam titles, fortune has not favoured him this year, both on court and off, but he has shown that those fighting qualities which have taken him to the top of the tennis world, are still there.

In the quarter-finals Djokovic next faces another compatriot, Miomir Kecmanovic who eliminated Australia’s John Millman 6-4 7-6(5) while qualifier Thiago Monteiro of Brazil, beat Slovakia’s Filip Ktajinovic, the eighth seed, 6-4 6-1. The Slovak takes on Karen Khachanov the third seed next, following a walk-over from compatriot Roman Safiullin, a qualifier.



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