Carlos Alcaraz slipped to a shock defeat on his return from injury on Tuesday at the Paris Masters, while Alexander Zverev needed three sets to beat Marton Fucsovics.
Spanish world number two Alcaraz, returning to the court after back and left leg injuries, had a first-round bye but had no answer to Russian qualifier Roman Shafiulin, who went down 6-3, 6. -4.
“It didn’t surprise me at all because I knew he was playing at a great level these last months, beating big guys, reaching finals,” said a disconsolate Alcarez.
“I knew he was going to play at a high level.”
Safiullin, ranked 45th in the world, canceled out an early Alcaraz break in the first set and then never looked back as he raced to claim the opening game 6-3.
The same scenario followed in the second set, with Alcaraz breaking for an early lead only for his opponent to respond immediately.
Having just announced he would play in the tournament last Wednesday, Alcaraz looked far from his best.
“I didn’t feel good, you know, on the field,” he said. “A lot of things to improve, a lot of things to practice.
“I think I didn’t move well. In the shots I think I had good shot quality. But physically, in terms of movement, I have to improve a lot.”
However, a lot of credit must go to Safiullin, who was relentless in getting over the line for a career-boosting victory in his first meeting with the Spaniard.
The 26-year-old held his nerve under pressure from the Wimbledon champion to serve out for victory despite facing several break points in the final game.
“Even if he’s not in the best form, he’s hard to beat,” Safiullin said. “Well, I’m very glad I made it.”
German 10th seed Zverev also had his share of struggles as he had to come back from a set down to beat Hungary’s Fucsovics 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the round of 64 at the Bercy Arena.
“It was just one or two points (that made the difference),” Zverev said.
“He played incredibly well and tactically I think he was incredible.
“His slice was effective as I didn’t know what to do on this surface here. It was a very difficult match and I’m happy to finish. I found my level and I’m happy with that.”
Zverev is still looking to secure his place in the top eight going into the ATP Finals in Turin next month.
After this win, the 2021 champion is seventh just behind Stefanos Tsitsipas and 430 points ahead of ninth placed Hubert Hurkacz.
American Taylor Fritz’s chances of qualifying for the tour event were dealt a blow when he was forced to withdraw with an abdominal injury.
On Monday, the ninth seed had comfortably defeated Argentina’s Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-4.
Hometown favorite Gael Monfils was knocked out in the first round by Argentine world number 21 Francisco Cerundolo in three sets on Tuesday.
The struggling 37-year-old looked tired after losing the second set in a tiebreak but rolled back the years with a break of serve right at the start of the third.
However, it was not enough as Cerundolo held back in the eighth game of the set, before breaking the Frenchman’s serve again to take the decider 7-5.
11th-seeded Hurkacz saw off Sebastian Korda 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 to book his place in the second round alongside Felix Auger-Aliassime, who upset Jan-Lennard Struff in two set.
Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev rounded off the day’s play with a quick 6-4, 6-3 win over Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka.
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