Novak Djokovic saw his aura of invincibility shattered by world No 55 Jiri Vesely as he was dumped out of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters in the second round yesterday.
It was Djokovic’s earliest loss at a tournament for three years and only his second of 2016 after an eye infection had forced his retirement against Feliciano Lopez in Dubai.
The 22-year-old Czech, Vesely, had never previously beaten a top-ten player but earned praise from the Serbian for the manner in which he closed out his famous 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory.
Djokovic said: “This is proof nobody is unbeatable. It has happened so many times in my career that I lose a match – it’s not the first time.
“Obviously it’s not easy to lose the match in terms of accepting it, but I have to congratulate my opponent. He was playing bravely. He was going for it and he deserved to have it.”
The result was more remarkable given Vesely won just one match in his first seven tournaments of the year, only finding form last week in Marrakech when he reached the semi-finals.
Vesely lost just two points on his serve in the opening set then he hit back superbly in the decider after losing the last four games of the second set to allow Djokovic to level.
Vesely said: “When I went on court I had completely different thinking, like I hope to win a game or I really hope to do well. But I had no idea I would be able to beat Novak today. So for me it’s just something that I can’t believe really happened. I hope it will give me a lot of confidence, a lot of self-belief.”
Djokovic says he will now take advantage of his early exit by taking a holiday in a bid to recharge and refresh.
“Training is going well in terms of sensations but I did not feel fresh [today],” he said. “I feel very tired.
“Things never happen by chance. I need a vacation and I look forward to that rest to come.
“I love playing Monte Carlo and this is not the ideal way to start the season on clay. But I have to accept this defeat and it is already behind me.
“I knew it was difficult to start the clay season because I’ve only had two days off since the beginning of the year. But it’s like that. I’ll try to recharge physically and mentally to be fresh for the next tournament (Madrid).”
Eight-time winner Rafael Nadal had no such problems in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Britain’s Aljaz Bedene and next meets rising star Dominic Thiem, who recovered from a set down to defeat Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel.
Bedene found Nadal too hot to handle on the clay in Monaco. It was a creditable performance by the British No 2 in the second round, but he held serve only four times in the 6-3, 6-3 defeat.
Nadal remains a formidable opponent and it was ultimately a comfortable win for the Spaniard in his first match of the season on European clay.
Bedene recovered from 5-1 down to 5-3 in the opening set and had a point to get back on serve but Nadal snuffed out the danger.
Nadal made more mistakes than he would have liked and was broken serving for the match in the second set, but immediately broke Bedene for a fifth time to set up a third-round clash with Austrian 22-year-old Thiem.
Fourth seed Stan Wawrinka, the champion in 2014, battled past Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6 (7/2), 7-5 but sixth seed Tomas Berdych suffered a surprise 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3 loss to Bosnian Damir Dzumhur.
Meanwhile,Andy Murray and Dominic Inglot moved into the quarter-finals of the doubles. The British Davis Cup team-mates lost the first five games against Serbian Nenad Zimonjic and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France but recovered to win 2-6, 6-3, 10-5.
Murray joins his brother Jamie, who reached the last eight on Tuesday alongside Brazilian partner Bruno Soares, although the siblings could not meet until the final.
Murray continues his singles campaign today with a third-round contest against France’s Benoit Paire.