Novak Djokovic playing his ‘best’ tennis ahead of French Open

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MADRID — Novak Djokovic is optimistic about his game going into the French Open despite going another week without a title.

The top-ranked Djokovic is yet to win a trophy this season while trying to regain his best form after not being allowed to play in the Australian Open because he was not vaccinated for COVID-19.

Djokovic lost to young sensation Carlos Alcaraz in three sets in the semifinals of the Madrid Open, when he was trying to make it to his second consecutive final after losing to Andrey Rublev in Serbia last month.

Despite the loss, Djokovic said he leaves Madrid feeling good about his preparations for the upcoming French Open, where he will defend his title.

“I definitely played very good tennis, I mean, the best that I have played this year,” Djokovic said. “Probably when the disappointment of losing this match passes, I will have a lot of positives to take away from this week.”

Djokovic said he felt he could have come away with the victory against the 19-year-old Alcaraz – one the hottest players on tour this season – if he had been “able to capitalize when it mattered” during the match of more than 3 1/2 hours at the “Caja Magica” center court.

“I had a lot of chances,” he said. “It was a fantastic match. Great battle.”

The Madrid Open was only his fourth tournament of the year, and third on clay. He lost to 29th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his first match in Monte Carlo in his only other Masters 1000 appearance so far.

Djokovic did not play in Indian Wells and Miami. He will carry an 8-4 record on the season into Rome this week, with one of those victories coming after Andy Murray withdrew from their third-round match in Madrid because of a stomach illness.

Djokovic had opened his campaign in the Spanish capital with a two-set win over Gael Monfils. He comfortably defeated Hubert Hurkacz in two sets in the quarterfinals.

The 34-year-old Djokovic said after the match against Monfils it was “his best performance of the year” considering he hadn’t played well and lacked rhythm in the few tournaments he had played.

Djokovic had reached the quarterfinals in the only other tournament he played this year, losing to 72nd-ranked Jiri Vesely in Dubai in February.

The goal now is preparing to do well in Roland Garros, where he will try to win his third French Open.

“I think it’s on the good path, definitely,” he said.

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.

Mikael Ymer fined about $40K after default for hitting umpire stand with racket

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer was docked about $40,000 after being disqualified for smashing his racket against the umpire’s chair at a tournament the week before he competed at the French Open.

An ATP Tour spokesman said Ymer forfeited about $10,500 in prize money and 20 rankings he earned for reaching the second round of the Lyon Open. Ymer also was handed an on-site fine of about $29,000.

The spokesman said the ATP Fines Committee will conduct a review of what happened to determine whether any additional penalties are warranted.

The 56th-ranked Ymer, who is 24 and owns a victory over current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, was defaulted in Lyon for an outburst late in the first set against French teenager Arthur Fils last week.

Ymer was upset that the chair umpire would not check a ball mark after a shot by Fils landed near a line. As the players went to the sideline for the ensuing changeover, Ymer smacked the base of the umpire’s stand with his racket twice – destroying his equipment and damaging the chair.

That led to Ymer’s disqualification, making Fils the winner of the match.

After his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at Roland Garros, Ymer was asked whether he wanted to explain why he reacted the way he did in Lyon.

“With all due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from the video what caused it and why I reacted the way I reacted. Not justifying it at all, of course,” Ymer replied. “But for me to sit here and to explain? I think it’s pretty clear what led me to that place. I think that’s pretty clear in the video.”