Novak Djokovic
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in action against Czech qualifier Tomas Machac in the first round of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Tuesday. Djokovic won in three sets. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

First-round matches can be tricky even for the Australian Open champion. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic realised that on Tuesday as Czech qualifier Tomas Machac put him through the wringer. But the top seed played the crunch points better to notch a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in the first round of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Tuesday.

The Serbian led the applause as the packed stadium stood up to cheer Machac after the match that lasted two hours and 27 minutes. “Tomas [Machac] didn’t play like 130 in the world. He played great tennis and deserves a great round of applause. He was giving me all kinds of trouble. But when it mattered, I found another gear,” Djokovic said after the match which his bid for the sixth Dubai title.

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After Djokovic swept the first set in 37 minutes, Machac dug deep into his reserves and produced some scintillating tennis. He served well and came up to the net to put away winning volleys wnners whenever the opportunity presented. A drop volley that died in the forecourt was the best.

Djokovic was unable to pick the Czech’s double-fisted backhands down the line as Machac won the second set and went toe-to-toe in the decider. They even traded breaks, but Djokovic steamed away in the tiebreaker.

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After winning his 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open to equal Spaniard Rafael Nadal’s record, the Serbian World No. 1 was recovering from injuries. The Dubai tournament was Djokovic’s first match since his recovery.

“Physically, you can always be better. I demand the highest of standards, levels, and quality of tennis and preparation that I can possibly get,” Djokovic said.

“I did struggle with injury for several weeks. It took a little bit of time to get used to holding a racquet. I haven’t played much tennis [before] coming into Dubai. So, I am hoping that as the tournament progresses, I can raise my level of tennis as well,” added Djokovic, who will meet World No. 39 Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands in the next round.

In another first round match and Canadian fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime overcame the stiff challenge of American Maxime Cressy 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.

“I would rather win more straightforward in two sets and shorter. Sometimes it’s okay to test yourself and to be tested by your opponent really in the early rounds. He beat me last time in a first round in a Grand Slam. Yeah, I knew it would be tricky. I knew I had to stay calm and composed and wait for my chances. When it came, I was fortunate at some point to be able to break in the third, then to keep going forward and win, Auger-Aliassime said after his tough first round match.

In other matches, eighth-seeded Croatian Borna Coric, Kazakh Alexander Bublik, Australian C. O’Connell and Swede Mikael Ymer advanced the second round.