Some things are better left to the imagination.
The now-kiboshed Monte Carlo Masters quarter-final between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz is likely not one of those things.
The first potential career meeting between the current world No. 1 and the increasingly-probable future world No. 1 was the undoubted highlight of the Monte Carlo draw.
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All that needed to happen was for them both to win a few matches: Djokovic to get past Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Dan Evans or David Goffin, Alcaraz to beat Sebastian Korda and Taylor Fritz or Marin Cilic. Two wins each and then it was time to get the popcorn out and let the intergenerational battle commence.
As well as the age gap and style clash, it was also the circumstances that made this such an appealing match-up: Djokovic as world no. 1 but severely undercooked due to a lack of match practice this season, Alcaraz coming in hot after an 18-2 start to the year and a first Masters title of his career at the Miami Open.
But it was the circumstances that ultimately scuppered The Match™, particularly in the case of Djokovic, whose rustiness proved his downfall against Davidovich Fokina.
After an error-strewn start there were signs that Djokovic was finding his feet in the second set as he got into more rallies and found his range with winners. His pumped-up reaction after levelling the match showed that he was up for the fight, but his body did not comply. Playing just his fourth match this season due to his inability to compete in Australia or America while unvaccinated, Djokovic faded badly and lost his opening match at a tournament for the first time since falling to Marin Klizan in Barcelona in 2018.
“I just ran out of the gas completely,” said the world No. 1 afterwards.
“Just couldn’t really stay in the rally with him. If you can’t stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.”
Given he hasn't played competitively in nearly two months, it’s hard to say whether Djokovic’s exit was more surprising than Alcaraz’s loss to Korda.
Alcaraz has been in such fine form this year that he has been talked up as a multiple Grand Slam champion and one of the leading contenders to win the French Open. He’s already won titles on clay – in Umag last year and Rio de Janeiro this year – and dismantled Korda when they met in the final of the Next Gen Finals in 2021.
But Alcaraz couldn’t stamp his mark on proceedings in Monte Carlo. The sky-high combined error count of 90 shows how tough it was for both players in windy conditions, but Korda was far more clinical on break points and also finished with 19 more winners.

Korda upsets Alcaraz at Monte Carlo Masters

“I’m a bit disappointed with myself,” said Alcaraz. “I had a lot of chances to be up in the match and close to winning, but these losses sometimes are good to live... next week you have another chance to get better.”
Alcaraz also shook off suggestions that the hype around him, or mental or physical fatigue after Miami, had impacted the match at all.
“I didn't think about the expectations that the people have for me. I just focus on me and what I have to do. I think mentally I'm ready to play these kind of matches, long matches, and tough matches. I mean, mentally and physically, I'm ready.”
Alcaraz and Djokovic are not only the big names to lose their first clay matches of the season in Monte Carlo. The transition from hard courts to clay is clearly a factor, especially for the top seeds who have byes into the second round of the tournament and face a player who has already won a match.
Seventh seed Cameron Norrie went out in three sets against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, sixth seed Felix Auger Aliassime lost in straight sets to Lorenzo Musetti, and fifth seed Andrey Rublev took time to get going before beating Alex de Minaur in three.
“It’s never easy to get used to playing on clay courts,” reflected Alcaraz.

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“The first match is always tough... It’s totally different to play on clay than on hard court. Points are longer, the slice [is used] much [more] than on hard court. You have to adapt your game to clay courts. More topspin, points are longer.
“You have to play matches, play sets, to get used to playing on clay courts.”
Amidst the upsets, two of the most impressive winners so far in Monte Carlo have been two of the top seeds: Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Both are looking to hit form on clay after mixed starts to the season and came through their opening matches with ease, Zverev winning 6-1 7-5 over Federico Delbonis and defending champion Tsitsipas sweeping past former champion Fabio Fognini 6-3 6-0.
"I think it's not bad for a change of surface,” was Zverev’s assessment of his display, while Tsitsipas was even more positive.
“Great things out there. I was able to really perform close to my best and deliver the result that I did.”

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Will Zverev and Tsitsipas continue to impress and challenge for the trophy at the end of the week? They look the standout pair in the draw now that Djokovic and Alcaraz are out.
Djokovic is set to play in Belgrade next week and will be hopeful of getting more matches under his belt, although he has pointed out that even in a normal season it takes him time to get into the clay swing. “I knew a few days ago that it’s going to take some time for me to really feel my best on the clay. That’s historically always been the case, I’ve never played very well in the opening tournaments of the clay season.”
Alcaraz doesn’t have much history to rely on when it comes to his clay form, but his results over the last few months suggest he will bounce back quickly. He is next set to play the Barcelona Open and could break into the top 10 with a good run.
Then it’s into May and perhaps in Madrid or Rome the first blockbuster meeting between Djokovic and Alcaraz will actually happen.
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