Mason, August 17 (AP) Novak Djokovic had a short night in his first singles match in the U.S. since 2021, beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Wednesday in the Western and Southern Open after the Spaniard retired early in the second set with a lower back injury.
The second-ranked Djokovic won the first set 6-4, then two points into the second set, Davidovich Fokina hunched over in pain following his return and ended the match after 46 minutes.
“Kind of a mixed emotions tonight,” Djokovic said. “Really like Alejandro. Get along really well off the court. We train with each other while in Spain. He told me he has a lower back issue that appeared yesterday. It’s unfortunate.”
Djokovic, 36, lost in doubles on Tuesday in his return to the country after missing events because of COVID-19 vaccine restrictions. It’s his first appearance in Cincinnati since 2019. The 2020 Western & Southern Open was played in New York due to COVID-19.
It was Djokovic’s first singles match since losing to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final. The winner of a men’s-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, Djokovic will face Frenchman Gael Monfils, who is 0-18 lifetime against him, on Thursday.
“Obviously, playing one set is better than not playing or losing,” Djokovic said. “I have another chance tomorrow. Kind of shaking off the rust.”
Top-ranked Iga Swiatek has never reached the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati tournament, but she had an encouraging start to the week, beating American qualifier Danielle Collins 6-1, 6-0.
“Last year, I didn’t feel confident in Cincinnati (so) it’s big progress for me,” Swiatek said. “I feel like it’s going to give me a lot of confidence. I’m happy that I can play better tennis here this year.”
Swiatek will face Zheng Qinwen in the fourth round after the Chinese professional rallied to defeat 43-year-old Venus Williams 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday.
The biggest upset on the women’s side Wednesday was 18-year-old Linda Noskova stunning ninth-ranked Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Kvitova reached the final last year in Cincinnati.
No. 4 Elena Rybakina defeated Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4 in a match that took 2 hours, 17 minutes.
Fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has lost in the semifinals in Cincinnati three straight years, got past American Ben Shelton in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).
“With players like this, they really have nothing to lose,” Tsitsipas said. “He’s still spiritually free on the court. He’s playing the game careless, just like I did when I first started.”
It was a good day for Americans.
No. 3-seeded Jessica Pegula staved off an upset bid from qualifier Martina Trevisan to win 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-3. Coco Gauff, seeded seventh, downed Mayar Sherif 6-2, 6-2 at night.
The Masters 1000 tournament has been played in Cincinnati since 1899 and is the oldest pro tournament still in the same city. Its future is in doubt, with a possible move to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2026.