Novak Djokovic was all too close to a rude awakening in his first match back from his honeymoon.
Fresh off his seventh Grand Slam title at the Wimbledon Championships, as well as a wedding to long-time partner Jelena Ristic, the world No. 1 was welcomed back to professional competition by swashbuckling Frenchman Gael Monfils, whom he met under the bright Toronto sun at Stadium Court.
The first set got off to a familiar start: Djokovic firing winner after winner and Monfils slugging back errors. The Serbian star would snatch the set 6-2 in less than 40 minutes.
Then something different happened.
Monfils fired back with feverous intent. His serve percentage shot up while Djokovic’s collapsed. Through twelve games, the two competitors stayed toe-to-toe, but the Frenchman saved the best for last and surged past his Serbian adversary in the tiebreaker to level the match.
If that was not enough, Monfils added salt to the wound by taking an early break lead for 3-1 in the decider. The crowd couldn’t have hoped for a more competitive battle.
Djokovic remained strong and forced an immediate break back to level the match at 3-3. The crowd settled down again. Order had been restored.
That was the final break of serve in the match; Djokovic took command of the final set tiebreak and never looked back. Four points into the breaker, Monfils looked like a defeated man. Five points after that the match was over.
He may have lost the battle but he certainly won his opponents affection.
“Gael is Gael, that’s what he does,” said Djokovic. “He loves jumping around, sliding, he’s very unpredictable. You don’t know what his next move is, so that’s why he’s so interesting.”
The top seed furthered his compliment by proclaiming Monfils the only player he would spend money to watch at a tournament as a spectator.
“I said before that he’s probably the only guy in the world, tennis player, that I would pay a ticket to watch the match. “He’s really fun to watch but not so much fun to play against.”
While it is unlikely Djokovic will need to buy a ticket to a tennis event anytime soon, his hard fought victory earned him another familiar French opponent in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The two will meet for a nineteenth time with the winner heading to the quarter-final round of the Rogers Cup on Friday.