Rublev outlasts Djokovic to claim Serbia Open crown
World number one Novak Djokovic's barren title spell in 2022 continued as he went down 6-2 6-7(4) 6-0 to Russian Andrey Rublev in the final of the ATP 250 Serbia Open in Belgrade on Sunday.
Playing his second tournament on clay this season after being knocked out by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in Monte Carlo earlier this month, Djokovic was off to a slow start as second seed Rublev broke him twice to clinch the opening set 6-2.
Djokovic had prevailed from a set down in his last three matches and the 20-times major winner, cheered on by a capacity home crowd, raised his game in the second set to take the tie-breaker despite earlier squandering five set points on the Rublev serve.
The Serbian missed a chunk of the early season, including the Australian Open as well as ATP Masters 1000 events in Miami and Indian Wells, due to his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 - and his lack of match practice showed in the deciding set on Sunday.
Rublev galloped to an early lead and barely gave his opponent a chance as he closed out the match with a powerful forehand winner for his first win over Djokovic and 11th career title.
"It was unfortunate that in the third set I really ran out of gas," Djokovic told reporters. "I couldn't deliver more of a fight but congratulations to Andrey on another great week."
The 34-year-old added that his surrender in the final set could have been down to a recent illness that also caused him trouble in the second-round defeat in Monte Carlo.
"I didn't like the feeling towards the end of the second set, and basically the entire third set was similar to what I was experiencing in Monte Carlo. Whether or not it is due to that illness I had or something like that, I don't know," he said, adding that the problem wasn't related to COVID-19.
"At least this bad feeling came in the fourth match rather than the first. Things are progressing slowly but surely. Paris is the big goal and hopefully by Paris I will be fit and ready to play best-of-five."