World number two Novak Djokovic has had an uncharacteristic start to the 2017 season. The 12-time Grand Slam champion lost his world number one ranking to Andy Murray at the end of the 2016 season but in 2017, he has an 11-3 win-loss record, which is not vintage Djokovic at this stage of the season. The Serb's lone title in 2017 came at the start of the year in Doha when he defeated Murray in a three-set battle in the Middle East.
However, Djokovic suffered a shock second round loss to Denis Istomin in the second round of the Australian Open ending his sixth reign as Australian Open champion in the process, which was the first time since 2007 that he failed to reach the quarterfinals. All of the headlines in 2017 have been about Roger Federer who has won the Australian Open and completed the Sunshine Double, and Rafael Nadal's resurgent form in 2017 has been well documented by reaching three finals in 2017 including the finals in Melbourne and Miami losing to Federer both times.
It was an underwhelming hardcourt season for Djokovic as the Serb completed the Sunshine Double in the last couple of years claiming the titles in Indian Wells and Miami but he lost to Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open, suffering his first loss in the Californian Desert since Juan Martin del Potro defeated him in 2013. The former world number one dropped more points in Miami as he didn't participate in the second Masters 1000 event of the year due to an elbow injury.
Djokovic will be searching for his third title in the principality in Monte Carlo after defeating Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych in the 2013 and 2015 finals respectively as he gets his European clay court season underway. The Serb's defense of his title at the French Open begins next month and he will be looking to go on a good run in Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome. Fortunately, for the former world number one, he will have some points to add as he suffered a shocking first-round exit at the hands of Jiri Vesely last year.
Djokovic's second round opponent Gilles Simon is having a mediocre season in 2017 as he records an even 6-6 win-loss record. Simon's only reached one quarterfinal in 2017 as he lost to compatriot Lucas Pouille in the first event of the year in Brisbane and he lost to last year's Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic in four sets at the Australian Open in the third round. Simon failed to get the better of Dominic Thiem losing to the Austrian twice in Rotterdam and Acapulco within three weeks and compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dispatched Simon in his only quarterfinal appearance to date in Nice.
The two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist began his Monte-Carlo Masters campaign against Malek Jaziri, thrashing the Tunisian, 6-2, 6-2 to set up this intriguing second round tie with Djokovic.
Djokovic and Simon have met on 11 occasions, and the former world number one has an overwhelming 10-1 head-to-head record in his favor. Simon won their first meeting in Marseille in 2008 in three sets, and the 12-time Grand Slam champion currently has a 10-match winning streak against Simon.
The second seed defeated Simon in their second meeting in the semifinals of the Masters Cup in China in three sets, and Djokovic won their next three consecutive matches in 2009. The Serb recorded his fifth victory over Simon in their quarterfinal encounter in Beijing in 2010 in straight sets and in their Davis Cup tie between France and Serbia which Serbia won and they went on to clinch the title.
The duo wouldn't meet for nearly four years in their third round encounter at Wimbledon which was their first match not contested on a hard court. Djokovic dispatched Simon, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 en route to clinching his second Wimbledon title in four years. The former world number one would defeat Simon in a three-set tussle in the Western and Southern Open in three sets in 2014, and they met once in 2015 in the third round of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris which Djokovic would win in straight sets en route to clinching that Masters 1000 title.
However, their most memorable encounter to date was their most recent match in the fourth round of the Australian Open last year. Djokovic was out of sorts as he committed 100 unforced errors in this match but somehow overcame the charismatic Frenchman in five sets and he went on to win his sixth Australian Open title in nine years.
This will be Djokovic's first match on tour since losing to Nick Kyrgios at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Furthermore, the former world number one competed in Serbia's Davis Cup tie against Spain and he defeated Albert Ramos Vinolas in straight sets.
Djokovic is wary of Simon, and the Frenchman plays a similar game to the Serb as both players like to wear down their opponents in long physical rallies. The two-time champion will need to serve well this match, and apply plenty of pressure on Simon's service games. The former world number one is the master of sliding, and sliding is essential on clay which Djokovic excels in.
Simon's forehand is a good weapon and he is extremely fit which means that he will be able to go toe-to-toe with the second seed in long rallies. On the other hand, Simon doesn't possess the best serve but he will have to serve well against the two-time champion.
The former world number six has got under Djokovic's skin before, and he will need the Serb to commit plenty of unforced errors like he did in Melbourne last year. Djokovic should win this match in straight sets but considering how inconsistent he is been in 2017, it would not be a huge shock if he lost to Simon. Whilst Federer dominated the hardcourt season, many are tipping Nadal to dominate the clay court season but Djokovic and Murray will have something to say about that.
It will be intriguing to see how Djokovic will play in this match following his month absence from the tour after healing up his elbow. This will be the third match scheduled on Court Rainier III, following the match between Simon's countrymen Adrian Mannarino and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The winner of this match will face 13th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, Karen Khachanov or Nicolas Mahut in the third round.
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets