Andrey Rublev Mirrors Novak Djokovic's Negative Monte Carlo Milestone

Andrey Rublev suffered an early loss as the defending champion in the Principality

by Jovica Ilic
Andrey Rublev Mirrors Novak Djokovic's Negative Monte Carlo Milestone
© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Andrey Rublev claimed his first Masters 1000 crown at last year's Monte Carlo Masters, performing a comeback against Holger Rune and lifting the trophy. However, the Russian could not defend the title last week, losing in the opening match to Alexi Popyrin and extending his poor streak.

Thus, Rublev became the first defending Monte Carlo champion who lost the opening match since Novak Djokovic in 2016! Novak's second Monte Carlo title came in 2015 over Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych. The Serb made a perfect start to the 2016 season, conquering Doha, the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.

However, he could not make a quick transition to clay, facing Jiri Vesely in the second round in Monte Carlo and experiencing a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 loss in two hours and six minutes. Interestingly, Djokovic would bounce back in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, winning two titles from three finals and completing a career Grand Slam.

Novak Djokovic, Monte Carlo 2016© Michael Steele / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Still, Novak could not produce that level as the defending champion in Monte Carlo, losing ground behind the second serve and falling in the pivotal moments.

Both players grabbed three breaks, and Vesely had the upper hand in sets one and three, celebrating his career-best triumph. Both players earned 84 points, with Vesely playing better in the shortest rallies and Djokovic in the mid-range ones.

It all came down to the opening games of the final set, as the Czech grabbed a double break to build the advantage and move over the top. Jiri made a reliable start, serving well and creating a break chance in game seven. Novak denied it with a service winner and landed a half-volley winner for 4-3.

Vesely produced another hold at love in game eight and made another push on the return at 4-4. Djokovic placed a forehand long, losing serve and sending his rival in front.

Jiri Vesely, Monte Carlo 2016© Michael Steele / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Andrey Rublev and Novak Djokovic suffered early Monte Carlo losses as champions.

Jiri served for the set at 5-4 and felt no pressure, landing a service winner and closing the opener in style.

Novak turned the tables in the sixth game of the second set, securing a break at love and moving 4-2 in front. The Serb grabbed another break at 5-2 after the Czech's loose forehand, rattling off four games and gaining a boost ahead of the decider.

Novak squandered two game points at the beginning of the final set and lost serve after netting a forehand. A left-hander missed a forehand in the second game, getting broken and bringing world no. 1 back to the positive side.

Djokovic wasted a game point at 1-1 and suffered the second consecutive break after placing a forehand beyond the baseline. The Czech cemented the lead with a service winner in game four, settling into a fine rhythm. The lower-ranked player fired an ace in the sixth game and forged a 5-3 lead with a hold at 30 two games later.

Anrey Rublev, Monte Carlo 2024© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Djokovic served to stay in the match in game nine and saved a match point with a volley winner. Vesely served for the win at 5-4 and produced another fine hold, sealing the deal and ousting the world's best player.

Eight years later, another defending champion lost in the first match in the Principality after Alexei Popyrin toppled Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 40 minutes. The Russian got defaulted in the Dubai Open semi-final and lost the ground, experiencing early losses in Indian Wells and Miami and traveling to Monte Carlo without confidence.

Popyrin took full charge of that despite serving at 50%, saving five out of six break points and securing three return games from eight chances. The Aussie forged the lead in the mid-range rallies, taming his strokes nicely and sealing the deal in straight sets.

The defending champion served well in the first game of the match and earned two break points at 1-0. Popyrin saved them with winners and attacked with his forehand to close the game and avoid an early setback. Alexei found the range on the return in the third game, landing a forehand crosscourt return winner and moving in front.

The Aussie confirmed the break with a good serving in game six and forged a 4-2 lead with a service winner in game six. The Russian experienced more issues behind the initial shot in the seventh game, playing against a break point and saving it with a backhand crosscourt winner.

Popyrin landed another service winner in the eighth game and pushed on the return again in the next one. The Aussie earned two set points at 5-3 after a lucky net cord, and a top-10 player erased them with unreturned serves, prolonging the battle.

Alexei served for the set at 5-4 and showed no fear, wrapping up the opener after Andrey's backhand error and gaining a boost.

Andrey Rublev, Monte Carlo 2024© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

The Russian faced two break points at 1-1 in the second set, showing frustration but denying them with powerful serves.

After serving well since the beginning of the duel, Popyrin finally experienced problems in game four, spraying errors and falling 3-1 behind. Rublev could not take advantage of that, playing a loose backhand in the fifth game and allowing his opponent to pull the break back.

Alexei played against two break points in the sixth game, struggling behind the initial shot for the second straight game. The Aussie saved them and held to lock the result at 3-3. Popyrin clinched the eighth game with a forehand crosscourt winner and made a charge on the return in the next one.

Alexei created break points and seized the first with a backhand winner, opening a 5-4 lead and serving for a notable win. Popyrin netted a forehand, providing Rublev with one last opportunity to prolong the battle. Instead, the Aussie saved it with an unreturned serve and earned a match point after drawing the Russian's mistake.

Andrey netted a routine forehand to propel his rival through, suffering an early exit and smashing his racquet in anger.

Andrey Rublev Novak Djokovic Monte Carlo