Novak Djokovic’s clay season on Tuesday got off to a sluggish start at the Monte-Carlo Masters as the world No. 2 struggled past Gilles Simon 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
The Serb, who has suffered a disjointed year with poor form and injury, spent around two-and-a-half hours toiling to get through.
He was broken at 4-4 in the final set, but then reeled off three straight games to snatch victory in the second-round encounter.
“It was a very difficult match, with many changes of momentum,” said the second seed, who won the Monte Carlo event in 2013 and 2015. “It was very tiring for me, the first clay of the season.
Djokovic, who has won only one tournament so far this season — the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the start of January — twice recovered in the third set from breaks down.
He finally prevailed against Simon, ranked 32 in the world, when the Frenchman fired long on a return.
Djokovic last played on the ATP Tour more than a month ago — although he did emerge to lead a Serbian Davis Cup win this month — and sat out the Miami Open last month with an elbow injury.
Qualifier Adrian Mannarino stunned fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, eliminating the seventh seed 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 6-3 as new father Tsonga played for the first time in more than a month.
Tommy Haas ignored his 39 years to post a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Benoit Paire as the German’s goodbye tour continues. Haas last played in Monte Carlo well over a decade ago.
In other first-round matches, French 11th seed Lucas Pouille beat Ryan Harrison 6-2, 6-4 while Gilles Muller stopped Spain’s Tommy Robredo 6-2, 6-2.
German Jan-Lennard Struff eliminated promising Norwegian wild-card Christian Ruud 6-4, 6-4.