Novak Djokovic at centre of 'sad' drama in return to US after two years

The 23-time grand slam champion hadn't played in the US for two years.

Novak Djokovic applauds his opponent and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina walks off injured.
Novak Djokovic (pictured left) made his return to the US for the first time in nearly two years, but his match finished prematurely after Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (pictured right) retired. (Images: Twitter/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic's return tot US singles competition after two years didn't go exactly as planned after his opponent Alejandro Davidovich Fokina retired injured after the first set. Djokovic hasn't played tennis in the US since opting to not take the vaccine, which saw him unable to enter the country for the last two hard court campaigns.

And with the relaxation of the border restrictions for the first time in two years, the 23-time grand slam champion made his highly-anticipated return to the court at the Cincinnati Open. Having won both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2023, Djokovic is heading into the final grand slam of the year in tremendous form.

TOUGH: De Minaur crashes back to earth as Purcell stuns in 'crazy' drama

'SHUT YOUR MOUTH': Women's tennis storm erupts over nasty act

However, his preparation didn't go as expected with his opponent retiring injured. Djokovic hadn't played a competitive match in a month having taken a few weeks off after losing in the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz.

He opted to skip the Canadian Open to rest his body and he would hoped for a little more time on court with Fokina retiring after 46 minutes. Djokovic hadn't played at Cincinnati since 2019 and fans were thrilled to see him.

He even gave one fan a memory of a lifetime during a break in play. When waiting for Fokina to return from a timeout, Djokovic saw a fan taking a photo of him. And to the cheer of the crowd, Djokovic went up and blew the supporter a kiss.

While there was plenty of hype around Djokovic's long-awaited US return, fans felt the moment was a little flat after the 'sad' retirement of Fokina.

Djokovic will now play Gael Monfils in the next round after the Frenchman played a vintage match to defeat the in-form Alex de Minaur. Djokovic has defeated Monfils in 18 straight matches, stretching back to 2004.

"I hope Alejandro bounces back to the court quickly, recovers from his lower back injury, that's what he told me at the net," Djokovic said post-match. "It's never the way you like to win, I think for the crowd as well. Coming in, they expect to see a battle, they expect to see a match.

"Of course it's great for me to be able to come back to the court and win a match. Obviously mixed emotions with the way it finished. Nevertheless, I'm hoping that I can build my form day to day and progress through the tournament with raising the level."

Novak Djokovic smiles on court.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) returned to the US after two years and enjoyed a win at the Cincinnati Open. (Photo by Aaron Doster/Getty Images) (Aaron Doster via Getty Images)

Alex de Minaur falls in shock Cincinnati Open loss

De Minaur has been in fantastic form in recent weeks having made two straight ATP finals at Los Cabos and Toronto. However, the Aussie suffered suffered a brutal loss to Monfils in the second round of the Cincinnati Open. He couldn't continue his scintillating form on Wednesday as Monfils showed his veteran smarts to down the Aussie.

Nevertheless, De Minaur is taking some red-hot form into the US Open. He will be Australia's top male hope in the absence of the injured Nick Kyrgios, who will miss all four grand slam tournament this year.

De Minaur's rise to 12 in the rankings is one better than Kyrgios' career-high mark of 13th, and makes him the highest-ranked Aussie male since Lleyton Hewitt in 2006. "Looking at the results, I'm pretty happy with where my level is at and how I'm continuously chipping away towards my goals," the 24-year-old said before Wednesday's loss.

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.