It wasn’t as straightforward as the scoreline may suggest, but world no. 1 Novak Djokovic marked his highly-anticipated 2022 debut with a straight-sets win over exciting Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti in the night session at this year’s ATP Dubai – who memorably pushed him to the brink of a surprise Grand Slam defeat on Parisian clay at Roland Garros last summer.
Djokovic passes Musetti test in long-awaited 2022 debut
Djokovic  bt. Musetti 6-3, 6-3
- In rematch of last year’s French Open five-set last-16 clash, Djokovic wins clean this time
- 20-time Slam champion’s first competitive appearance since Dec. 3, 81 days ago
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He’s back. After the farcical handling of his mooted Australian Open participation, which sent shockwaves worldwide, world number one Novak Djokovic would’ve been glad to emerge unscathed from a 75-minute clash vs. a bullish Italian teenager keen to make up for lost time.
Musetti, who had lost more singles matches (18) than he’d won (9) in the eight months since their previous meeting, could be forgiven for feeling like he was rapidly being left behind in an exciting age-group packed with talented youngsters pushing their way towards the top-10.
Carlos Alcaraz, who beat Musetti’s compatriots Fabio Fognini and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini en route to his first ATP 500 title last week, is case in point. Australian Open quarter-finalist Jannik Sinner, who recently overhauled his coaching team, is another good example.
He wasn’t expected to win here but the 19-year-old didn’t do enough to put Djokovic under sustained duress – like Paris – nor take his opportunities when they came. The world no. 1 saved all seven break points he faced across both sets, leaving the teenager bereft of ideas at times.
Although still clearly needing to build up his match sharpness with time, the Serbian’s elasticity and trademark shot defence helped him recover from sticky situations repeatedly, even when he would fire a loose forehand wide of the mark or enduring a period of first serve inconsistency.
Instances like this point below show him turning defence into attack with one difficult stroke – a two-handed backhand – making it look easy while catching Musetti off-guard behind the baseline during a rally he was seemingly in control of, keeping the youngster uncomfortable:
Regardless of the circumstances, you cannot afford to give Djokovic as many free points as Musetti mustered: the Serb always seemed on hand to produce a defiant response, which would’ve been psychologically disheartening especially given how quickly things unravelled.
Despite enduring what looked like one of his serving hiccups as the finish line neared for the first time in three months, Djokovic gladly put him out of his misery with efficiency and poise. Even still, you can’t help but feel he’ll have to play his way into more assertive form this coming week.
What’s next, other results on Monday in dubai
He’ll face either Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov or fiesty Australian talent Alex de Minaur in the second-round, with their matchup set to take place around 10am BST on Tuesday.
Elsewhere in the first-round, there were big wins for Andy Murray and his Australian Open conqueror Taro Daniel against Chris O’Connell and David Goffin respectively.
Murray recovered from losing a first set tiebreaker to eventually outlast his Australian opponent, in just shy of the three-hour mark, after Daniel held his nerve down the stretch to avoid needing a deciding set to separate himself and an unpredictable Belgian challenge in 31-year-old Goffin.
Jiri Vesely, who came through two rounds of qualifying, stunned Marin Cilic 6-4, 7-6 before Djokovic’s compatriot Filip Krajinovic recovered just like Murray – responding well after losing a first set tiebreak to drop just six further games en route to beating Tunisian veteran Malek Jaziri.
Picture source: Getty Images