Novak Djokovic advances to Cincinnati 3rd round after opponent retires

Novak Djokovic had a short night in his first United States singles match since 2021, beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open after the Spaniard pulled out early in the second set with a lower back injury.

Second-seeded Djokovic won the first set 6-4, then two points in the second set, Davidovich Fokina bent over in pain after his comeback and ended the match after 46 minutes.

“Kind of mixed emotions tonight,” Djokovic said. “Really like Alejandro. We get on very well off the pitch. We train together in Spain. He told me he had a lower back problem which appeared yesterday. It’s unfortunate.”

Djokovic, 36 years old, lost in doubles tuesday upon returning home after missing events due to COVID-19 vaccine restrictions.

This is his first appearance in Cincinnati since 2019. The 2020 Western & Southern Open was played in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was Djokovic’s first singles match since losing to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final. Djokovic, who has seen fans rally in his training sessions, could be on a collision course with Alcaraz in the US Open tune-up.

“Obviously playing a set is better than not playing or losing,” Djokovic said. “I have another chance tomorrow. Kind of shake off the rust.”

Winner of a men’s record 23 Grand Slam singles title, Djokovic will face the Frenchman Gael Monfils, who is 0-18 lifetime against him, Thursday. Defeat Monfils Alex de Minaure in straight sets earlier today.

“He’s an amazing guy, someone I really respect and like a lot as a person,” Djokovic said of Monfils. “He brings so much joy to the fans, so much entertainment. He’s one of the most charismatic players we’ve had in the past two decades on tour, and he’s playing better than ever.”

Fourth Stefanos Tsitsipaswho lost in the semifinals in Cincinnati three consecutive years, passed the American Ben Shelton in straight sets 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).

“With players like this, they really have nothing to lose,” said Tsitsipas. “He’s still spiritually free on the pitch. He plays the game carefree, just like I did when I started.”

The Masters 1000 tournament has been played in Cincinnati since 1899 and is the oldest professional tournament still in the same city. His future is uncertain, with a possible move to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2026.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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