Djokovic powers to impressive Madrid Open win
Former world No 1 Novak Djokovic showed signs of a return to form with an impressive 7-5 6-4 victory over Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the opening round of the Madrid Open on Monday.
Later, France’s Gael Monfils beat Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2 3-6 6-3 to set up a second-round clash today with champion and tournament favourite, Rafael Nadal.
Following early exits in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Miami and Indian Wells, Djokovic, 30, struck his shots with precision and recorded 26 winners to improve his head-to-head advantage to 12-2 against world number 20 Nishikori.
Djokovic was broken to love at 2-2 but he recovered well by pouncing on his opponent’s second serve to clinch the opening set in just over an hour.
The two-time winner in Madrid went on to claim a decisive break in the 10th game of the second set to wrap up the contest.
It was Djokovic’s first victory over a top-20 opponent since the Serb overcame Monfils at Eastbourne in June.
“I was looking forward to having these kind of matches, looking to trying to win these kind of matches,” Djokovic said.
“So that’s why it was really a perfect scenario to start off the tournament. It’s great. I couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Earlier in the day, Canada’s Milos Raonic booked a second-round meeting with third seed Grigor Dimitrov, defeating Argentina’s Nicolas Kicker 6-3 6-2.
Raonic recorded 17 aces to knock out the Madrid debutant.
Frenchman Lucas Pouille, seeded 15th, crashed out of the tournament after a 6-2 6-3 defeat by compatriot Benoit Paire.
Meanwhile, world number two Caroline Wozniacki survived a scare from Ashleigh Barty on Monday, edging the Australian 6-2 4-6 6-4 to reach the last-16.
Wozniacki found herself on the brink of defeat as she trailed 4-2 in the final set, but the Dane roared back to claim the last four games and seal the victory.
Barty, 22, was ultimately let down by her groundstrokes in crucial stages of the decider, finishing with 54 unforced errors.
Wozniacki will next face former French Open semifinalist Kiki Bertens, who stunned 15th seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-1 6-4 in the second round.
“It’ll be another tough match,” Wozniacki said. “She’s a big server with a big forehand. She loves the clay.
“I haven’t had an easy draw here, but I don’t think anyone has. It’s just about going for it again.
“That’s all I can do – go out there and do my best.
“I think it’s definitely a surface that evens out a lot of the playing field.
“I think there’s more people that have an opportunity here on this surface.”
Karolina Pliskova held off former world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-2 1-6 7-5 to set up a third-round clash with US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Belarusian veteran Azarenka was featuring in her first tournament on clay for two years and came from 3-0 down to level in the final set against Pliskova.
However, the Czech broke serve in the 11th game to win a tense battle.
Another former world number one, Maria Sharapova, continued her revival on clay as she overcame a tense opening set to beat Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5 6-1.
The 31-year-old Russian, who entered the tournament on the back of four consecutive defeats, rallied from 3-1 down before snatching the opening set with a ferocious forehand.
With momentum on her side, Sharapova won 20 of the last 22 points to secure a spot in the last-16.
“Although I didn’t play at my best level in the first set, I pulled it through,” the five-time grand slam champion said.
“I played some really tough points and I hung in there, especially in that final game.
“Then I really set up a good opportunity for me to step up.
“I thought I did a really good job of that, especially in the last six games.
“I was very aggressive, played deep, returned a lot better. That will certainly help me moving forward.”
Unseeded Sharapova will next face last year’s finalist Kristina Mladenovic, who edged China’s Zhang Shuai 6-4 4-6 6-3.