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Novak Djokovic opens clay-court season with upset loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at Monte Carlo Masters

Novak Djokovic opened his clay-court season with a surprising loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Davidovich Fokina stunned the top-ranked Serb 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 in the second round to hand Djokovic another setback as he tries to move on from the controversy surrounding his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

It makes for rare back-to-back losses for Djokovic, who had not played since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships in February — his only previous tournament this year after he was barred from playing at the Australian Open.

Djokovic struggled from the start as the 46th-ranked Spaniard broke him early to pull ahead 4-1 before another break handed him the first set.

Davidovich Fokina kept up the pressure and led 3-0 in the second before Djokovic clawed back. But the Serb continued to struggle on his serve and was broken three times in the decider. “He was the better player,” Djokovic said. “I was hanging on the ropes the entire match.”

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The Serb stated he was too exhausted to put up a fight in the third set.

“I collapsed,” Djokovic said. “I just ran out of gas completely … If you can’t stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.”

Djokovic had defeated Davidovich Fokina, 22, in consecutive sets twice last year, in Rome and at the Tokyo Olympics.

Djokovic could not defend his Australian Open title in January after he was deported from the country for not being vaccinated. He had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States for the same reason.

The authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing people who aren’t vaccinated into the country and back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.

That means Djokovic will be able to play at the French Open, which remains his “big goal of the clay season.”

“I knew that it’s going to take some time for me to really feel my best on the clay,” Djokovic said. “I have to accept defeat and keep working … and hopefully build my form for Roland Garros.”

The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.

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Novak Djokovic on entry list for BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at Indian Wells

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic is on the entry list for the BNP Paribas Open in California, where the Serb would face a vaccine mandate.

Djokovic, who was unvaccinated against COVID-19 as of last month, was detained and eventually deported from Australia for failing to meet that country’s strict vaccination requirements. It prevented him from defending his Australian Open title last month.

To enter Australia, Djokovic submitted a positive test issued in Serbia on Dec. 16 for a visa exemption on the grounds that he had recently recovered from the virus. But the Australian government canceled his visa and deported him.

Neither the ATP nor WTA tours require players to be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, non-U.S. citizens must be fully vaccinated to travel to the U.S. by plane, according to the CDC. U.S. citizens, permanent residents and those traveling on an immigration visa, if not fully vaccinated, are required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 when traveling to the U.S. by air. Limited exceptions apply.

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Djokovic is a five-time champion at Indian Wells, where he hasn’t played since 2019. He hasn’t played a game since November at the Davis Cup in Madrid.

Djokovic is calendared to play a tournament in Dubai later this month.

Fans attending Indian Wells from March 7-20 are required to show valid proof of full vaccination.

Australian Open winners Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty head the list of entries released Wednesday.

Three-time winner Nadal returns to the desert for the first time since 2019. He missed last year’s event that was moved to October because of a foot injury. He won his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Australia.

Joining Nadal in the men’s draw are Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev, No. 3 Alexander Zverev, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, and defending champion Cameron Norrie.

Top-ranked Barty already has two titles this year.

She’s joined in the women’s draw by defending champion Paula Badosa, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova, No. 4 Karolina Pliskova and Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins. Teenagers Leylah Fernandez, Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff return for their second appearances in the desert.

The remaining spots in the draw will be filled by winners of the qualifying and wild-card recipients.

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