No.2 seed Novak Djokovic knocked out Frenchman Gilles Simon in his first match of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.
The Serb, who returned to the tour after a month of absence due to an elbow injury played his first clay match of the year winning a tough fought 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 match over two hours and 32 minutes.
The 29-year-old, a two-time winner at Monte Carlo, received a first round bye.
Djokovic will face the winner of No. 13 seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain or #NextGenATP 20-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov next.
Both players broke serve to 15 as they kicked the hot mid-afternoon matchup. However, it was Djokovic who maintained an edge by keeping Simon back behind the baseline with his groundstroke powerful shots and consistency. Djokovic punished every short ball possible helping him to break for a 5-3 advantage and eventually winning set.
The World No. 30, Simon recovered from 0/40 in the third game of the second set but saw Djokovic convert his fourth break point. In a stretch of five straight games, Simon managed to break twice and climbed back again from 0/40 in the fifth game en route to clinch the 53-minute set.
In the nerve-racking decider, neither player maintained their cool with successive service breaks in the fifth and sixth games, but it was Simon who excelled through with a perfectly timed forehand down the line on break point at 4-4, which evoked an “Awe” moment in the crowd. Djokovic quickly raised his game, snatching three of the first four points on Simon’s serve to break back and two games later seized the victory when Simon smashed an uncontrolled forehand long.
Pondering on takeaways from the match Djokovic said “Obviously, it was a very closely fought match that could have ended differently. Simon was two, three points away from winning it [Simon served at 5-4 in the deciding set]. I got myself out of that tricky situation. And that’s probably what the most positive thing I take from today.”