Sharp Novak Djokovic steps up a gear to reach Dubai quarters while Andrey Rublev saves five match points
Novak Djokovic’s return to action at the Dubai Duty Free Championships continued with a straight-sets victory over Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the second round.
The world No 1 played his first match since January’s Australian Open triumph – that took him to a record-equalling 22 Grand Slam titles – on Tuesday, getting past Czech Tomas Machac in three sets.
And Djokovic followed that up by seeing off Griekspoor, ranked 39th in the world, 6-2 6-3 on Wednesday to move into the quarter-finals.
The Serbian, who had defied a hamstring issue to triumph in Melbourne, claimed each of the opening three games of the contest and secured the first set with a second break.
He took a 5-0 lead in set two, which included emerging triumphant from an epic game on Griekspoor’s serve lasting more than 15 minutes, before the Dutchman hit back with a break to slightly delay Djokovic’s march to victory.
In an on-court interview after the match, Djokovic said: “It’s been a great evening for me tonight.
“Yesterday I really had to work hard to get a win. Tonight I think right from the blocks at the beginning I was sharp, I played definitely better quality tennis than I did last night, and maybe the last three or four games weren’t the best to close the match, but I managed to find the good serve in the end.
“I’m very pleased with the performance, with the way I felt on the court and hopefully things can go in the right direction for tomorrow.
“(It was) much closer to the best level than it was yesterday. I probably didn’t expect to play that well tonight, considering last night’s match, but here we go – every day is a new day, a new opportunity.”
Djokovic also described Griekspoor, 26, as “one of the most improved players on the Tour”, before the 35-year-old added with a smile: “The new generations are coming – but I’m not afraid!”
The world No 1 will face either fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz or qualifier Pavel Kotov in the last eight.
In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Andrey Rublev saved five match points to record a brilliant 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-3) victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Rublev also saved match points in the Doha last week and at the Australian Open.
“It happened already [three times] this season and I’m super happy that I’m able to win these matches against [top players],” the second seed said. “The beginning [of today’s match] wasn’t good. I got frustrated. He started really well, he was hitting really hard, and I didn’t have many options, but then, little by little, I started to play and started to fight.
“I started to be positive, and I made this crazy tie-break comeback from 1/6 that I’ve never done in my life before… I’m really, really happy.”
Up next is Botic van de Zandschulp with the winner of that encounter facing either seventh seed Alexander Zverev or Lorenzo Sonego. World No 67 Sonego caused the biggest upset of the tournament so far as he defeated fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 while Zverev secured a 7-5, 6-4 win over Christopher O’Connell.
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