World number one Novak Djokovic belatedly began his 2022 campaign with a convincing 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti at the Dubai Championships on Monday.
- Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has played and won his first match since 2021, with a comfortable victory in a tournament in Dubai
- Djokovic missed the Australian Open after a court battle over his visa to enter Australia led to his deportation
- The Serbian star’s time as men’s world number one could end if Daniil Medvedev wins this week’s ATP tour event in Acapulco
The 34-year-old showed no sign of rust or mental baggage from his Australian Open saga, producing a typically clinical display to ease into the second round.
It was Djokovic’s first match this year after his hopes of playing at the Australian Open were dashed after he was deported following an 11-day saga revolving around his decision not to have a COVID-19 vaccination and a controversial exemption.
Two court hearings were involved in the decision to send the Serb home from Melbourne — with Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke eventually deciding he could fuel anti-vax sentiment.
But back on a tennis court in the relaxed surrounds of Dubai’s Aviation Club, Djokovic showed just why he would have been favourite to win a 10th Australian Open crown and beat Rafael Nadal to a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title.
After being cheered on to court by the late night crowd, Djokovic moved through the gears, breaking Musetti’s serve in the fourth game of a routine first set.
Djokovic, watched by his entourage including wife Jelena, got an early break in the second set with a forehand winner.
He briefly dropped his level when serving at 3-2, forced to save break points, but never looked threatened as his supporters, many with Serbian flags, cheered his winners.
Djokovic crunched a superb forehand winner in the final game and claimed victory on his first match point.
Even if Djokovic wins the Dubai title for a sixth time, he could lose his world number one ranking this week should Russian Daniil Medvedev win the Acapulco title.
But for Djokovic, who is enjoying an ATP record 361st week as number one, that was the last thing on his mind as he moved on from one of the darkest few weeks of his illustrious career.
“It’s been a while since I played my last match, the reception was fantastic,” Djokovic, who had not played since the Davis Cup Finals, said on court performing his trademark salute to all sides of the arena.
“It was a straight sets win so I have to be satisfied after not playing a match for two or three months.”