MASON, Ohio (AP) — Novak Djokovic had a short night in his first singles match in the U.S. since 2021, beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Wednesday in the Western & Southern Open after the Spaniard retired early in the second set with a lower back injury.
The second-ranked Djokovic won the first set 6-4, then two points into the second set, Davidovich Fokina hunched over in pain following his return and ended the match after 46 minutes.
“Kind of a mixed emotions tonight,” Djokovic said. “Really like Alejandro. Get along really well off the court. We train with each other while in Spain. He told me he has a lower back issue that appeared yesterday. It’s unfortunate.”
Djokovic, 36, lost in doubles on Tuesday in his return to the country after missing events because of COVID-19 vaccine restrictions. It’s his first appearance in Cincinnati since 2019. The 2020 Western & Southern Open was played in New York due to COVID-19.
It was Djokovic’s first singles match since losing to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final. The winner of a men’s-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, Djokovic will face Frenchman Gael Monfils, who is 0-18 lifetime against him, on Thursday.
“Obviously, playing one set is better than not playing or losing,” Djokovic said. “I have another chance tomorrow. Kind of shaking off the rust.”
Top-ranked Iga Swiatek has never reached the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati tournament, but she had an encouraging start to the week, beating American qualifier Danielle Collins 6-1, 6-0.
“Last year, I didn’t feel confident in Cincinnati (so) it’s big progress for me,” Swiatek said. “I feel like it’s going to give me a lot of confidence. I’m happy that I can play better tennis here this year.”
Swiatek will face Zheng Qinwen in the fourth round after the Chinese professional rallied to defeat 43-year-old Venus Williams 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday.
The biggest upset on the women’s side Wednesday was 18-year-old Linda Noskova stunning ninth-ranked Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Kvitova reached the final last year in Cincinnati.
No. 4 Elena Rybakina defeated Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4 in a match that took 2 hours, 17 minutes.
Fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has lost in the semifinals in Cincinnati three straight years, got past American Ben Shelton in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).
“With players like this, they really have nothing to lose,” Tsitsipas said. “He’s still spiritually free on the court. He’s playing the game careless, just like I did when I first started.”
It was a good day for Americans.
No. 3-seeded Jessica Pegula staved off an upset bid from qualifier Martina Trevisan to win 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-3. Coco Gauff, seeded seventh, downed Mayar Sherif 6-2, 6-2 at night.
The Masters 1000 tournament has been played in Cincinnati since 1899 and is the oldest pro tournament still in the same city. Its future is in doubt, with a possible move to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2026.
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis