Monaco | Djokovic and Nishikori gain confidence.
The Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters heralds the start of the European leg of the tours leading up to the French Open and a few weeks later, Wimbledon itself.
And there was plenty of interest on the opening day with two marquee names looking to re-establish their respective careers following poor recent results after long injury lay-offs last year.
“I thought it was good considering the amount of matches I’ve played. I mean, I (have) played probably six, seven matches since Wimbledon last year Novak Djokovic
Of the two, Novak Djokovic, seeded nine, certainly had the easier match as Kei Nishikori faced the 12th seed Tomas Berdych.
Former world number No.1 Djokovic had played only six matches during 2018 and was basically still struggling to regain the confidence he had when dominating the game which had led him to sack all his coaches and re-appoint his original mentor Marian Vajda.
Competing in the opening round of a Masters 1000 event for the first time since Cincinnati 2006, the Serbian couldn’t have asked for a better start demolishing Dusan Lajovic 6-0 6-1 in 56-minutes to record his fourth win of the season and the first since the third round of the Australian Open.
It was certainly a solid performance, but he was hardly tested by the qualifier who looked in awe of his opponent as he lost the opening 7 consecutive games, losing the first set in just 22-minutes.
A certain amount of excitement was generated in what was a lacklustre match, when Lajovic held his serve for the first time and nearly broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set. He in fact held four break points throughout the match which he failed to convert.
Speaking after his win, Djokovic was positive. “I thought it was good considering the amount of matches I’ve played. I mean, I (have) played probably six, seven matches since Wimbledon last year.” And referring to the injury which side-lined him, he added: “So after two years, finally I can play without pain.”
Earlier in the day, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, playing for the first time in Monte Carlo in six years, fought back from a set down to see off Tomas Berdych 4-6 6-2 6-1 for his best win of the season.
The former world number four, who is now ranked 36th, missed a large part of last season with a right wrist injury and started his 2018 campaign in American second-tier Challenger Tour events.
Berdych looked set to dominate the match leaping into a 4-1 lead in the opening set but Nishikori, despite losing it for the loss of four games, asserted himself in the second by stringing together four straight games to level the match.
And the 28-year-old maintained that momentum in the decider when he broke the Czech twice to clinch a morale boosting victory and a place in round two.
The Japanese No.1, who was playing close to his best tennis, did call for treatment to his wrist, commented following his victory: “It’s not great but first match on clay, you know, I’m expecting little soreness. Hopefully I have a day off tomorrow. If I have to play tomorrow, I got to be ready tonight.”
Looking ahead, Djokovic will have a sterner test when he takes on Borna Coric in the second round, the Croatian having made light work of Julien Benneteau in his opening match, 6-2 6-3 while Nishikori will meet Daniil Medvedev in the next round with greater confidence, the Russian having struggled to get past Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics 6-7(4) 6-2 7-5.