our correspondent in Montecarlo
Here at the Country Club on those grandstands overlooking the sea in that magnificent setting that is truly unique, but so battered by the wind that it was better with duvets, scarves and hats (if not covered) – not a great promotion this time for the Côte d’Azur – they did almost all a great cheer for a player who was neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal. But Alejandro Davidovich Fokinan.46 in the world, boasting quarter-finals both in Monte Carlo and at Roland Garros, but probably unknown to most of the spectators.
Only at the beginning, at the applausometer … the n.1 in the world had overwhelmed his rival a little more Spanish than Russian, but – as I mentioned – not yet a person known to the general public of laymen.
Not even that double surname helps him too much, to tell the truth, and from now on I would choose to call him Fokina, because it is shorter.
However, as the match progressed, the 4-1 and a double break for Fokina, people chose who to cheer for. And that is for Fokina. Although Novak, in the post-match press conference, glossed over saying he did not perceive this. You want it because he was the underdog, the non-favorite tennis player. You want for the syndrome that takes non-subscribers who wish they could tell friends “That day when Djokovic lost from that Fokina in Monte Carlo I was there too”. You want, last but not least, because it was that half-unknown Fokina who made the match, surprisingly commanding the game in almost all exchanges, forcing the # 1 to act as windshield wipers and often rowing helplessly on the baseline. The fact is that slowly the mood of the public has largely shifted to sympathize with Fokina who fired impressive broadsides – very heavy especially those from the forehand – and he also proved to be a more than discreet showman with repeated somersaults and dives worthy of Tania Cagnotto. I say Tania and not her dad Franco so as not to catch our younger readers by surprise who have probably never heard of a South Tyrolean diver who was an Olympian, known at least as much as his fellow countryman Jannk Sinner, and maybe they would be in trouble if I mentioned Boris’s dives Becker on the lawns of the All England Club in the second half of the 1980s. Where, by the way, he only triumphed three times (1985-1986-1989). And then, while people continued to cheer on an almost heroic Fokina, with his shirt smeared with red earth, the more orange socks than Nole’s ugly shirt. Fokina even managed to blush his knuckles between one fall and the next – or if you prefer to call them all, fate vobis. A miracle that he always managed to keep the racket in his hand.
Oh yeah, once again had everyone against Novak Djokovic, just as Simone Eterno wrote and titled in a book recently published by Sperling & Kupfer (“AGAINST. Life and destiny of Novak Djokovic”) in which five chapters focus on the different cons. Against fate (the bombs on Serbia). Against the strongest (Federer and Nadal). Against himself (the choice for Guru and against the usual coach Marian Vajda). Against the record of records (the Grand Slam, so close yet failed, as well as the 21 Slams). Against… current (the obstinate refusal to the vaccine).
Here, I have no doubt that among all these… “against”, the one that influenced the public attitude and Djokovic’s performance the most, was the last.
To all those who, spontaneously or even unwillingly, have decided to get vaccinated – and it is indisputable that there have been more than those who preferred not to (and here I am not discussing the merit, the wrong or the reason) – who does not did not arouse great spontaneous sympathies. It is a fact. Right or unfair … that’s it.
Then there is no doubt that tennis at the highest level is not a sport in which you can improvise. If one plays three games a year, he cannot expect to be able to express the best of his abilities in the fourth game. Only Kyrgios, in his extraordinary madness, could tell us that this would be possible for him. Now, even Nick is convinced that he said a lot of nonsense.
On l’Equipe, taken from Slalom (to whose daily newsletter I recommend everyone to subscribe if you love tennis, but also all sports with many extraordinary stories weighed and “edited” by Angelo Carotenuto) I read what Paul Quetin, trainer athletic of the French federation.
“Nothing replaces competition, nothing replaces the game chain. It is never possible to reproduce the intensity of the training, especially the emotional intensity, which is expensive in terms of energy. We can play many training matches, many sequences of points, the training can be physically more difficult than the competition, but it is not a substitute for the atmosphere of the tournament ”.
And Djokovic made his choices. Which resulted in his being unable to play in Australia and the United States. He found a tough opponent, who had to win his game three times because he managed to lose the second set despite being ahead twice by a break, 3-0 and 4-2, then also 4-2 in the tiebreak, when he gave something but a proud Djokovic was also very good at not giving up. Fokina had the good faults of him: like when he lost 12 points out of 13 in a certain juncture of the second set or when he was allowed, on 4 all in the second set, to make 3 double faults in a row.
But with his help, Nole had brought home the second set. And there the n.1 in the world, who in the meantime had won back the audience happy to attend a third set, has served the agonistic desuetude well described by Paul Quetin and ran out of gas. He who in normal times was able to beat Nadal in the final at the Australian Open 7-5 in the fifth after 5 hours and 53 minutes, he who in the memorable 2019 Wimbledon final ended up winning at the tiebreak of the fifth set, 13-12 – the last on par 12 in Brit history – another unforgettable battle around 5 hours.
45 minutes the first set, 1h and 23 m the second, 48 minutes almost one way for the 6-1 of the third set. The petrol warning light is lit red.
It’s not a surprise to me, I don’t think it was a surprise to him either. Although I think that if he had come out “alive” from this match, he would probably have beaten the next opponent, being either Goffin or Evans, two lightweight tennis players. Certainly not as powerful as Fokina.
Patience, in a tournament already lacking some top-ten we missed another one that could enrich his palmares not transcendental limited to what he collected here in the club where he has been training for many years with good frequency. Nole won in 2011 and 2015, only two times, not nine times like in Melbourne. And from 2015 onwards the best result was a quarter-final. And let’s not forget that Nole’s most recent match ended with a defeat with the “qualified” Vesely, n.123 in the world (who after that exploit then almost never stopped…).
Ok, Nole is the reigning champion of Roland Garros, his qualities when he is trained and in shape cannot really be discussed, but here a stone’s throw from the sea where the ball must be pushed more because the clay is slower than at Paris, he has often accused her of a little effort. For once today I am not talking about Italian tennis players, our other correspondents here in Montecarlo have already done it very well, Laura Guidobaldi (here the chronicle of Musetti-Paire) and Gianluca Sartori (here the chronicle of Sonego-Ivashka), with the help from the rest of our editorial team. But I’m happy that at least the two I thought they would win have won, I was under no illusion that Fognini could beat Tsitsipas, and I expect a great Wednesday… like a lion.