(REUTERS, AFP) - Defending champion and tennis' world No. 1 Novak Djokovic suffered his earliest tournament defeat for three years, when 55th-ranked Czech Jiri Vesely beat him in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters tournament on Wednesday.
The Serb lost 4-6, 6-2, 4-6 in what was the pair's first-ever meeting.
Djokovic had tightened his iron grip on the sport in recent months, winning nine of his last 10 tournaments, with the only blemish in that run coming when he was forced to retire against Feliciano Lopez in Dubai owing to an eye problem.
Wednesday's defeat was his earliest on the tour since he lost in the second round of the Madrid Open in 2013 and is a significant blip in his preparations for May's French Open, the only Grand Slam to have eluded the 11-time major winner.
The match was 22-year-old Vesely's first victory against a top-10 opponent after eight previous failures.
Djokovic came to the court with 22 consecutive wins in Masters 1000 play, with his last defeat coming in August in Cincinnati against Roger Federer.
The 28-year-old had won his last 14 matches and holds four titles already in 2016, including the US Masters double from last month in Indian Wells and Miami.