Novak Djokovic wins on tennis return in first match since Australian Open saga

The Serbian, who could be replaced as men’s No 1 by Daniil Medvedev this week, won his first match of the year on his return to the court

Jamie Braidwood
Monday 21 February 2022 20:02 GMT
Novak Djokovic made an impressive return to defeat Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets
Novak Djokovic made an impressive return to defeat Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets (Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic made a winning return to tennis in his first match since being deported from Australia as the men’s world No 1 defeated Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets at the Dubai Duty Free Championships.

Djokovic, who was cheered on by a supportive crowd in Dubai, made light work of the 19-year-old Musetti to seal a 6-3 6-3 win in what was his first match in three months following the controversy that surrounded his Covid-19 vaccination status at the Australian Open last month.

The Serbian missed the opening grand slam of the year amid a battle in the Australian courts over his exemption for the vaccine that ultimately saw him deported from the country ahead of the tournament on “health and safety” grounds.

Djokovic, who remains unvaccinated, has said he is prepared to miss future grand slams over his stance but was able to enter the tournament in Dubai, a tournament where he is a five-time champion.

The world No 1 was welcomed onto the court and the crowd chanted ‘Novak, Novak!’ upon the 20-time major champion taking the opening break of serve midway through the first set.

Djokovic had not played a competitive match since the Davis Cup finals in early December of last year but it did not take long for the Serbian to get back up to speed as he swiftly saw off the challenge of the highly-rated Musetti.

Asked after the match if he had enjoyed his return to the court, Djokovic replied: “Very much so. I couldn’t ask for a better reception.

“It’s been a while since my last match but I couldn’t have picked a better place to kick-start the season. It was the best possible experience tonight. Thank you for your reception and for welcoming me on the court in the way you did.

“All in all, it’s a straight-sets win so I have to be satisfied with my performance. After not playing for three months, of course there were moments where I played great, moments where I made a couple of unforced errors in a row, uncharacteristically.

“But it’s normal to expect that, in my first match after a while. But I’m glad I could finish off the match against a talented player.”

Djokovic is facing a challenge to keep hold of his position at the top of the world rankings and must better Daniil Medvedev’s performance in Mexico this week to extend his record run as No 1.

Earlier in the day, Andy Murray outlasted Australian qualifier Christopher O’Connell in a marathon match to reach the second round. Murray fought from a set down to defeat O’Connell 6-7 6-3 7-5 in two hours and 51 minutes.

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