Novak’s Elbow Fine, But No. 1 Hopes Hurt

Novak Djokovic says that he did not hurt his right elbow despite a heavy fall during his three-set loss to Belgian David Goffin in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters quarter-finals Thursday. But his hopes of returning to World No. 1 did take a hit.

The early defeat is a blow to Djokovic’s chances of reclaiming the year-end No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking. And in the near-term it makes his job of overtaking current No. 1 Andy Murray even tougher. In coming weeks he is defending 3,600 points in Madrid (winner in 2016), Rome (finalist in 2016) and Roland Garros (winner in 2016). Including Monte-Carlo, the Serb has earned just 655 points in a disappointing start to the year.

Murray, who lost his third-round match in Monte-Carlo to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, should remain in top spot for the immediate future. But the two players who look best placed to challenge the Scot for the coveted year-end No. 1 are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal following their fast starts to the season. Nadal is alive in the Monte-Carlo semi-finals, chasing a record 10th title in Monaco. Federer, a winner at the Australian Open and the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells and Miami, will return to competition at Roland Garros before playing Stuttgart, Halle and Wimbledon during the grass swing.

The good news for Djokovic, who missed the most recent ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Miami with a right elbow injury, is that he escaped injury in the scary fall. After a lengthy rally early in the second game of the second set, Djokovic took a heavy tumble out wide by the sponsor hoardings while stretching for a forehand.

In his post-match press conference, the winner of a record 30 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles said that he was more affected in the defeat to Goffin by the sun than the fall. During the third set, the ad side of the eastern end of the court was bathed in sunshine, with the deuce court in shadows. On back-to-backhand exchanges, just seeing the ball was a challenge.

“Elbow is fine. It’s just unfortunate I missed my chances in the beginning of the third set to go a double break up,” said Djokovic, who led 4-2 in the decider. “It was almost unplayable… I just got disturbed by that light. On 4-3 I lost that serve. On that side, it’s kind of hard to find timing when somebody’s kind of putting directly flashlight in your eyes… Both of us struggled on that side. He managed to hold serve on 5-all from that side, which was a great effort from him. But I couldn’t.”

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