World No.1 Novak Djokovic apologised to his home crowd and blamed a recent “illness” after losing the Serbia Open final when getting ‘bageled’ by Andrey Rublev in the decider.
Djokovic was playing just his third ATP tournament of the season as he continues his clay-court preparations ahead of next month’s French Open.
The Serbian, who lost to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his opening match at Monte Carlo the previous week, beat Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic and Karen Khachanov en route to reaching the final in Belgrade.
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Second seed Rublev took the opening set 6-2 before Djokovic levelled the match when winning the second-set tie-break 7-4, but the 34-year-old then “ran out of gas” in the final set, which he lost 6-0.
“I didn’t feel too tired until the end of the second set” Djokovic said afterwards. “The 5-4 game was a long game and that is when I started to not feel great. I think I played well in the tie-break.
“I came out ready to fight another set, but it wasn’t [a] very pleasant thing for people to see on the court, so I am sorry for that kind of experience as I knew people wanted to see me fight and try and win. But it wasn’t to be this time.
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“It’s an individual sport, when something fails, the engine can’t work. It’s a bit worrisome, I can only assume it’s because of the illness that hit me a few weeks ago. But I have to look at the positives, I’ve won three matches from a set down.”
Djokovic may yet be thankful for the difficult week in Serbia, with all four of his matches going to three sets.
The defending French Open champion is not yet at full fitness, but is taking the positives from his most recent outing.
Djokovic added: “I have to look at the positives. [I] played the final in front of my home crowd. It was unfortunate that in the third set I ran out of gas and couldn’t give it more of a fight. Congrats to Andrey for playing another great week. He is at the top of the men’s game and one of the best players for a reason.
“I could have easily lost in the first match, so after four tough three-set battles all I can say is I am tired. Winning the tough three-set battles before this match will serve me well for the continuation of the season.
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“At least this bad feeling physically came in the fourth match rather than the first match in Monte Carlo. Things are progressing slowly but surely."
Meanwhile, Rublev called his third tour-level win of the season “really special” after the world No. 8 won the Serbia Open on his debut.
“It is big to play against you and share the court for the second time,” Rublev said. “I hope we have more battles. I feel so great here, it is a very nice city. It feels really special. I want to say a big thanks to all the spectators for supporting all the players all week. To see full crowds again is special for all of us.”
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