Novak Djokovic won his first singles match on American soil since 2021 as Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was forced to retire during their second-round contest at the Western & Southern Open.
Djokovic had taken the first set 6-4 on Wednesday when Davidovich Fokina, who had taken a medical timeout in the first set, retired with a back injury.
He will now face another 36-year-old – Frenchman Gaël Monfils – in the third round in Cincinnati as he steps up his preparation for the US Open.
“He’s playing as good as ever. He’s a year older than me,” Djokovic said about Thursday’s match against Monfils, who turns 37 on September 1.
“Everybody talks about my age, but what about him?! He’s doing amazing, so it’s going to be a duel of the veterans tomorrow, I guess.”
The Serbian is unvaccinated against Covid-19 and has been unable to enter the US for the past two years.
However, the country’s vaccine requirements for non-US travelers were lifted earlier this year, enabling Djokovic to compete in Cincinnati.
His last singles match in the United States prior to Wednesday’s victory was at the 2021 US Open when he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the final.
Asked about his absence from US tournaments since then, Djokovic told reporters on August 13: “The reason why I was not here for two years, I have zero regret on that. I’m just glad to be back.”
He broke Davidovich Fokina at 3-4 after the Spaniard had returned from his medical timeout, only to be broken back the following game.
But Djokovic wrapped up the set soon after, whipping a forehand past the Iberian while his opponent was stranded at the net.
Two points into the second set, the world No. 23 pulled up in pain and swiped his racket in frustration before retiring from the match.
“I hope Alejandro bounces back to the court quickly [and] recovers from his lower back injury – that’s what he told me at the net,” said Djokovic.
“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.”
Djokovic is looking to win his third title at the Western & Southern Open, his last coming in 2020 when the tournament was held in New York City amid the pandemic.