Novak’s Great Escape

Two-time former champion Novak Djokovic conjured up a great escape at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Tuesday evening, denying Gilles Simon his first victory over the World No. 2 in nine years.

In a stunning display of tennis, Simon served for the match at 5-4 in the deciding set, but it was Djokovic who found a way to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 over two hours and 32 minutes.

“I thought I played a solid tennis for first set and a half,” said Djokovic. “I was 6-3, 2-1 up, playing just enough to keep going. I felt like I had the control of the match. Then the match turned around. I started making some unforced errors. He made less unforced errors.

“Usually he doesn’t do too many. But he just found a way to take away angles from me. I couldn’t maybe play as I have for the first 45 minutes of the match. I started to take more risk because of his game. I made more errors, unfortunately. We got ourselves in a third set.

“After that, obviously, it was a very close battle that could have ended differently, and would be, of course, deserved if he would have won the match. He was two, three points away from winning it. I got myself out of that tricky situation. That’s probably the most positive thing I take from today.”

Djokovic is now 12-1 lifetime against the Frenchman, who recorded his lone win at the 2008 Open 13 in Marseille. The Serbian now meets the winner of No. 13 seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain or #NextGenATP Russian Karen Khachanov.

Both players broke serve to 15 as they settled the mid-afternoon clash in front of a capacity crowd. But it was Djokovic who grew in confidence by keeping Simon deep behind the baseline with his groundstroke power and consistency. Forays up the court to punish any short ball, helped Djokovic to break for a 5-3 advantage.

There was no left up in intensity, Simon was at his resilient best. The former World No. 6 first recovered from 0/40 in the third game of the second set, only to see Djokovic convert his fourth break point opportunity. In a run of five straight games, Simon broke twice and recovered again from 0/40 in the fifth game en route to sealing the 53-minute set.

Neither player seized control in the decider, with successive service breaks in the fifth and sixth games, but it was Simon with a well-timed forehand down the line on break point at 4-4, which got the crowd on their feet. Djokovic raised his game, winning three of the first four points on Simon’s serve to break back and two games later sealed victory when Simon struck a wild forehand long.

“At 5-4, a lot of work was done to reach that stage,” said Simon. “I was not as calm as I had to be. My shots were not as precise… It was a tough moment. But when you play a match like that, sometimes one is up and the other one is down, and it changes. I played two bad points in a row, and the end came quickly. Of course, I would have preferred to do better at 5-4.”

Monaco resident Djokovic is now 29-8 at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. He beat Rafael Nadal in the 2013 final and Tomas Berdych in the title match two years ago.

Elsewhere, 10th seed David Goffin lived to fight another day on Tuesday when he recovered from a 1-5 deficit in the first set to beat the experienced Nicolas Almagro, a winner of 13 ATP World Tour clay-court titles, 7-5, 6-1 to round out play on day three.

It was his 21st match win of the season and he next faces sixth seed Dominic Thiem or Robin Haase, who overcame lucky loser Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-2 earlier in the day.

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