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Djokovic returns to Monte Carlo as Alcaraz waits to pounce

MONTE CARLO, PRINCIPALITY OF MONACO (AFP) – Novak Djokovic will return to action at the Monte Carlo Masters next week where Carlos Alcaraz, the teenager seen as his likely long-term successor as world number one and multiple Grand Slam winner, lies in wait.

Djokovic, who tomorrow starts his 365th week on top of the rankings, has played just one tournament in four months.

His now infamous deportation from Melbourne prevented him from an assault on a 10th Australian Open title.

Djokovic’s only appearances on court were in Dubai in February where he played just three matches.

His reluctance to get vaccinated then meant withdrawing from the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments.

While he took a back seat, 18-year-old Alcaraz stunned the tennis world by storming to the Miami title, becoming the third youngest winner of a Masters event. Djokovic, 34, a two-time champion in Monte Carlo, was on Friday drawn to face Alcaraz in what would be a blockbuster quarter-final in the principality.

Alcaraz, unlike the great Serb star, has hardly been off a tennis court in 2022, playing 20 matches on the tour with a win-loss record of 18-2.

He has rocketed from 133rd in the world to 11 in one year.

As well as his Miami triumph, the 18-year-old pushed Rafael Nadal all the way at Indian Wells before succumbing in a three-set semi-final.

“I have always looked up to Rafa, I always watched his big moments and matches and learned a lot from that,” said Alcaraz.

Nadal was among the first to congratulate Alcaraz upon his Miami win, hailing a “historical” triumph.

In Djokovic’s absence, Nadal has nipped ahead of him in the Grand Slam greatness race, winning a 21st major in Australia.

However, 35-year-old Nadal will miss out on Monte Carlo, where he is an 11-time champion, having picked up a rib injury.

The Spaniard hopes to be fit to play in Madrid later this month in the buildup to the French Open where he will bid for a 14th title.

This year’s Monte Carlo Masters will be played in front of full crowds for the first time since 2019 after the 2020 event was cancelled and the 2021 edition staged behind closed doors.