Novak Djokovic bluntly addresses claim that he is 'scared' of facing Italian players

Djokovic has had a couple of surprising defeats against Italian tennis players over the last 12 months.

by Dzevad Mesic
SHARE
Novak Djokovic bluntly addresses claim that he is 'scared' of facing Italian players
© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Novak Djokovic was pretty direct when asked if he was starting to get "scared" of facing Italian tennis players as the world No. 1 made it clear to a reporter that there was nothing on the Tour that could instill fear in his veins. 

On Tuesday, top-seeded Djokovic kicked off his Monte Carlo Masters campaign with a dominant 6-1 6-2 win over Roman Safiullin. By beating Safiullin, Djokovic set up a round-of-16 meeting against Italy's Lorenzo Musetti, who stunned him 4-6 7-5 6-4 in the same Monte Carlo stage last year. 

Since Musetti's win over Djokovic, two other Italians have also had success against the Serb. After beating Djokovic in the Davis Cup final in late 2023, Jannik Sinner also defeated the Serb en route to winning his first Grand Slam title at this year's Australian Open. 

In March, Djokovic experienced another loss against an Italian tennis player after Luca Nardi stunned him 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the Indian Wells Masters third round. 

"I'm not scared of anything and anybody, but I really hope that I can get the chance to play him again, get the matchup, another matchup here," Djokovic said when asked if he was starting to feel scared of facing the Italians.

"He is obviously one of the most talented players on clay, a beautiful one-handed backhand. He's very athletic. He can do a lot of great things. He's one of the most promising young players not only from Italy but generally for the world.

"Yeah, let's see. Let's see how it works. I mean, Arthur Fils is also a tough opponent to beat. He's got to win that match.

"I like the way I played my first match comparing to the first match last year. I feel much different, more ready, so whoever is across the net, I'm hoping I can deliver my best game."

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic © Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney
 

Djokovic thrilled with his opening Monte Carlo performance

After Djokovic lost to Sinner at the Australian Open and also got upset by Nardi in Indian Wells, there were certain concerns and questions about the Serb's game. But against Safiullin in his opening clay match of the year, Djokovic looked flawless as Safiullin never stood a chance against the record 24-time Grand Slam champion.

Right from the start of the match, Djokovic looked determined and claimed back-to-back breaks for a 4-0 lead. In the fifth game, Safiullin saved three break points to finally get on the board but it didn't take long before Djokovic earned his third break in the seventh game to clinch the first set.

At the start of the second set, nothing changed as Djokovic kept pressing Safiullin but the Russian managed to save two consecutive break points in the second game and tie the set to one game apiece. However, not realizing two early break points didn't impact Djokovic, who broke Safiullin in the fourth game and went on to open a 4-1 lead after also serving out the fifth game. 

In the sixth game, Djokovic missed out on four break points but broke Safiullin again in the eighth game - the game in which the Russian was serving to stay in the match. 

"Yeah, my feeling was great. I think it's an accurate judgment from the people that it's been one of the best performances I had here in quite a few years," Djokovic said.

"Monte-Carlo is the first big tournament of the clay court season. You know, I haven't been really able the last six, seven years to start off strong and start off well. I've always kind of struggled in this tournament.

"But again, it's just the beginning of the tournament. It's one match. I'm going to hope to work tomorrow to maintain that rhythm and focus, obviously try to perform as well as I did in the second match as well as I did today."

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic © Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney
 

Djokovic happy that his work from practice is already paying off

After losing early in Indian Wells and skipping Miami, Djokovic focused on practicing and getting better. For Djokovic, delivering such a performance against Safiullin was the best possible start to Monte Carlo and a clear sign that his efforts weren't for nothing.

"But I like really the way I felt today on the court, the way I was striking the ball. I think the two, three weeks of training I had is paying off really, you know, good training block with Zimonjic and with the team," Djokovic said.

"We put in a lot of hours into thinking about the game, the movement, and things that haven't really worked for me in the first couple tournaments of this year that I played.

"It's a great start. Let's not get ahead of ourselves and put the hopes too high. It's only one match, but the way I felt, I'm really pleased."

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic © Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney
 

It remains to be seen if Djokovic can now beat Musetti and make amends for the Monte Carlo loss he suffered last year.

Novak Djokovic
SHARE