Dubai Tennis Championships Day 1: Novak Djokovic delivers masterclass on return

A round-up from the opening day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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After the women's tournament last week - which saw Jelena Ostapenko crowned champion - it's time for the men to take centre stage at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Monday's first round may be limited in quantity but it is stacked with quality as world No 1 Novak Djokovic makes his highly-anticipated start to the season as he bids to win a sixth title in Dubai. The Serb's first round match on Centre Court, against Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti, will follow former world No 1 Andy Murray's encounter against Australian qualifier Christopher O'Connell.

The day begins with former US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia taking on Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely, before Tunisian wildcard Malek Jaziri faces Serbia's Filip Krajinovic. The other match of the day features Belgium's David Goffin up against Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel.

Djokovic returns in fine style

Novak Djokovic started his season in stunning style on Monday night as the world No 1 produced a masterclass to cruise past Italy's Lorenzo Musetti in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Djokovic, 34, was playing in his first match of the year following the visa controversy in Australia that resulted in the Serb being deported from the country on the eve of the Australian Open due to his unvaccinated status against Covid-19.

If there were any concerns Djokovic might struggle with a lack of match fitness - having not played a tournament since the Davis Cup in November - those were quickly dismissed as the top seed raced into the second round in Dubai with a routine 6-3, 6-3 victory in 75 minutes.

"It's been a while since I played a match and I couldn't ask for a better place to start the season," Djokovic said. "It's a straight sets win so I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for two and half months, There were moments I played great, others I made some errors but I'm happy to win tonight. All in all, a very pleasant experience for me."

Musetti, who pushed Djokovic to five sets at the French Open last season before retiring injured, represented a stern first-round challenge, and the Italian wildcard made his intentions clear by ripping a backhand winner in the first exchange of the match. But Djokovic soon settled into his stride and claimed the only break of the first set to take a 3-1 lead. That proved all the daylight the Serb needed to win the opener.

Djokovic then moved ahead in the second set with a break to love for a 2-1 lead and the 20-time Grand Slam champion looked unstoppable at that stage. However, Musetti pushed Djokovic close in the sixth game when the world No 1 saved four break points to maintain his advantage.

Djokovic earned his second break with Musetti serving to stay in the match and he clinched the victory when the Italian sent a shot long. The five-time Dubai champion, back at the tournament for the first time since winning the title in 2020, will face either Russia's Karen Khachanov or Australian Alex De Minaur in the next round.

Murray grinds into second round

Andy Murray celebrates after beating Christopher O'Connell. AFP

Andy Murray registered his 699th career win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night - and in true Murray fashion, it was far from straightforward.

The former world No 1, returning to Dubai for the first time since winning the title in 2017, managed to "tough it out" against Australian qualifier Christopher O'Connell, taking the victory 6-7, 6-3, 7-5 in eight minutes shy of three hours.

Read the full match report and reaction from Murray here.

Jaziri defeated in three-set battle

Tunisian wildcard Malek Jaziri was defeated in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after losing out in a close three-set battle against Serbia's Filip Krajinovic 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.

The world No 297, a regular visitor to the tournament and a popular player among the fans, belied his ranking to go toe-to-toe with world No 44 Krajinovic, and after a slow start in which he trailed 0-3, fought back to level and take the first set in a tiebreak.

Jaziri, who reached a career-high No 42 in January 2019 and made the Dubai semi-finals the previous year, faced a tougher challenge in the second set as Krajinovic broke twice to level the match.

The third set could have gone either way, with both players staying solid on serve, until Jaziri produced an untimely wobble to hand Krajinovic the break and an opportunity to serve out the match, which he did on his second match point.

The 29-year-old Serb will face either defending champion and seventh seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia or American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round.

Daniel inflicts more misery on Goffin

David Goffin's difficult start to the season continued in Dubai after the Belgian was defeated in the first round by Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel.

The former world No 7, now ranked 48th, arrived in Dubai with a 3-6 win-loss record for the season and registered his third successive first round loss, going down 6-3, 7-6 to world No 111 Daniel.

Goffin started slowly and was broken twice in a row as Daniel raced into a 4-0 lead before closing out the first set with ease. The Belgian did well to fight back in the second set after getting broken in the fourth game, earning an immediate break back, and with the rest of the set staying on serve, a tiebreak was required to settle it.

A close tiebreak was decided when Goffin lost serve to hand Daniel a 6-5 lead and the Japanese player sealed the victory with his first match point after one hour and 52 minutes.

Daniel will play either Canadian sixth seed Denis Shapovalov or Hungary's Marton Fucsovics in the second round.

Vesely defeats Cilic to reach second round

Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely earned his first win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with an impressive 6-4, 7-6 win over former world No 2 Marin Cilic.

Three previous visits to Dubai had resulted in three first round losses for Vesely and the world No 123 finally tasted victory on Monday afternoon.

Vesely earned the only break of the first set in the third game and remained solid on serve to take the lead. An immediate break in the second set put Vesely in complete control and he looked poised to serve out the victory at 5-4 but squandered three match points before Cilic claimed the break back.

Vesely quickly regrouped for the tiebreak, which he took 7-3 on his third match point to complete the win in one hour and 53 minutes. The Czech will face either eighth seed, and 2018 champion, Roberto Bautista Agut or France's Arthur Rinderknech in the second round.

Updated: February 21, 2022, 8:15 PM