There is no more intimidating sight on a tennis court than seeing Novak Djokovic set up to return serve. With his lean upper body tilted far over his splayed out muscular legs, his iron jaw taut, and his dark eyes locked in on his opponent, the world No. 1 is dialed in for devastation. Today’s victim was 28-year-old Italian Andreas Seppi, who in six previous meetings against Djokovic had yet to taste victory. Today’s match, in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters, also didn’t go Seppi’s way, as Djokovic suffocated him, 6-1, 6-4.

The Serb’s relentless attack forced the world No. 44 to hit 91 percent of his shots from behind the baseline in the first set, often off his back foot. Seppi finally managed to hold serve at 5-0, but Djokovic, who had another solid service day with five aces to only one double fault, easily held serve to win the first set.

Djokovic doesn’t so much as ambush his beleaguered opponents as he does methodically cut off their every option. His down-the-line backhand is his closer shot, but his cross-court forehand played deeper and deeper into the corner, putting pressure on Seppi to try and do something out of the ordinary to win points. Seppi resorted to hitting a high number of forehand drop shots, but Djokovic ran every one of them down and proceeded to display a nice mini-tennis game. If there is one shot in the Djokovic arsenal that still lets him down, it is his volley, but on most occasions, he is in such a dominating position at the net that he doesn’t have to hit great volleys.

The second set was closer, as the whippet-like Seppi served better and kept Djokovic off balance. But Seppi, who only comes out to play on the red dirt (he’s won only six matches in nine hard court tournaments in 2012), never really threatened the determined Djokovic. With 100 days to go until the Olympic Games at Wimbledon, and two Grand Slam and three Masters events in the interim, this is the time of year in which the Serb wants to fully assert his dominance. He has never won Monte Carlo, deciding to skip it last year in favor of his home tournament in Belgrade. To beat Rafael Nadal here, where the Spaniard has won the event for seven years running, has to lie large in Djokovic’s plans.

Next up for Djokovic tomorrow is Alexandr Dolgopolov, in what promises to be a tighter and highly-entertaining match.

—Dan Markowitz

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