Novak Djokovic bolstered his credentials at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters with a hard-fought 7-6(2), 7-5 victory over Borna Coric in the second round.
The Serb was forced to stretch every sinew to seal his place in the last 16 in the principality, requiring two and a quarter hours to dispatch the rapidly improving 21-year-old. He will face Dominic Thiem in the last 16.
Djokovic moved with grace in his routine win over compatriot Dusan Lajovic in the previous round and he will be content that he was able to come through a tight affair against a player who bores many of the 12-time Grand Slam champion’s traits.
Coric reached the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open last month – where he fell to Roger Federer despite leading by a set – and he had Djokovic on the ropes several times throughout the contest.
Encouragingly for the two-time champion was that he was able to endure the pressure, having his break cushion wiped out in both sets but managing to steady himself.
That resilience was conspicuously absent in his disappointing exits at Indian Wells and Miami this year and he admitted afterwards that he can reclaim supremacy in the men’s game if he is able to stave off injuries.
“I just hope that I’ll be healthy,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.
“I know when I’m healthy, when I’m not dealing with any significant injury that can disturb me on the way to compete and train, then I can really reach that desired level.”
He did not appear hindered on court against Coric and he started the more sprightly, seizing the break of serve with the contest four games old.
Djokovic was taking charge in rallies, blistering a forehand winner to consolidate for 4-1. Coric, however, muscled his way back into the set, fashioning two break back opportunities in the seventh game and converting at the first time of asking.
The Croatian’s confidence was growing and he was in disbelief that he was not able to break for a 6-5 lead when he dragged Djokovic out wide to the ad court before sending a pair of forehands agonizingly long of the open court.
Instead, Djokovic was able to steel himself, racing out to a 4-1 advantage in the tie-break and sealing a marathon opening set in 66 minutes.
The pair traded breaks to open the second set but Djokovic sensed Coric’s vulnerability, breaking for the second time in quick succession and holding to love to strengthen his grip on the match.
It appeared as though as the Serb would close out the match but he squandered nine match points as his baseline game deteriorated and the 21-year-old was able to break back to live another day.
That day proved fleeting as he handed the initiative immediately back to the Serb with an error-strewn game and Djokovic, at the tenth time of asking, sealed his place in the next round