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Top-ranked Djokovic returns to clay and eases into third round at Monte Carlo Masters

Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic - The Canadian Press

MONACO (AP) — Novak Djokovic made light work of his return to clay and did not face a break point in beating Roman Safiullin 6-1, 6-2 to reach the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Serving for the match, Djokovic won on his second match point when Safiullin’s return sank into the net. Overall, Djokovic could perhaps have been a little more clinical, since he forced 19 break points and converted just five of them.

It was the top-ranked Serb's first clay-court tournament since winning the French Open last year to clinch a men's-record 23rd major title. He added the U.S. Open to extend that total to 24 but lost in the semifinals at the Australian Open this year to eventual winner Jannik Sinner, and he is looking for his first title of 2024.

Djokovic recently split with coach Goran Ivanisevic, ending their association that began in 2018 — and included half of those major titles.

In cloudy conditions at the Monte Carlo Country Club, Djokovic secured two service breaks to lead 4-0 in quick time, before Safiullin finally held serve.

Djokovic's drop shot looked in good order and he clinched the first set in 33 minutes when Safiullin, on his second serve at 0-40, hit a return into the net.

Djokovic next plays either Frenchman Arthur Fils or Lorenzo Musetti of Italy.

Djokovic is looking to win Monte Carlo for the third time but first since 2015. He hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals since then and could face defending champion Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals.

Earlier, Carlos Alcaraz pulled out because of a muscle injury to his right forearm. Last week, record 11-time winner Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament with injury.

Fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany joined Djokovic in the third round when he beat Sebastian Ofner of Austria 6-3, 6-4. The 2022 French Open semifinalist will face either two-time Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas — seeded 12th — or Tomas Martin Etcheverry. They play Wednesday.

In remaining first-round matches, there were wins for No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and No. 11 Alex de Minaur of Australia.

De Minaur eased past 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka 6-3, 6-0, breaking the three-time Grand Slam champion's serve six times, while Hurkacz battled past Britain's Jack Draper 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2).

Sebastian Korda, Roberto Bautista Agut, Miomir Kecmanovic and Zhang Zhizhen also advanced to the second round.

Second-ranked Sinner faces Korda on Wednesday. Sinner is 22-1 with three titles in 2024, including recently at the Miami Open.


AP tennis: