CINCINNATI: Novak Djokovic shook off a shaky first game to launch his title defence at the ATP Cincinnati Masters with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Sam Querrey on Tuesday.
The Serb world number one and top seed double-faulted three times to lose his opening service game before quickly finding his rhythm.
A break back five games later and another break of Querrey to seal the opening set put Djokovic back in his element.
“I ended the match well even if the start was nervy,” said Djokovic, who was playing for the first time since beating Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final last month.
“Sam was feeling comfortable on the court at the start and dictating. It was tough facing his big serve.
“I’m just pleased with this challenge in quick conditions, I’m glad I overcame it.
“I’m hoping for a better performance in the next round.”
Federer was also due back on the court for the first time since Wimbledon, taking on Juan Ignacio Londero in a second-round match.
In early action, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka won the first-round battle as he eliminated 2017 Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).
Under leaden skies after an overnight thunderstorm, Dimitrov broke in the 12th game of the first set to take the lead.
The 33-year-old Swiss fought back with the only break in the second set.
Wawrinka then raced into a 5-1 lead in the final set but wasted two match points in the eighth game and was broken twice while serving for victory.
Wawrinka had to hold off his Bulgarian opponent in the final-set tiebreaker before squeezing through in more than two and a half hours with his 10th ace.
The defeat left Dimitrov with just two victories out of six matches played since Roland Garros and four consecutive losses to Wawrinka, including last week’s opening round in Montreal.
Wawrinka, who played a 2012 semi-final here, will face Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev, a 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-2 winner over 15th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia.
In other opening-round matches, Montreal semi-finalist Gael Monfils exited to Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 and Belgian David Goffin beat Taylor Fritz of the United States 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
France’s Benoit Paire advanced 6-4 as Spaniard Fernando Verdasco retired.
Venus topples Bertens
In women’s play, defending champion Kiki Bertens fell in the second round to Venus Williams, with the 39-year-old American putting her decades of experience to good use in a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4) victory.
“Before the match, I felt quite good. Stepping on court, I’d say first few games was pretty bad,” Bertens said.
“I didn’t start the match in a loose way. I knew that I had to defend the title.”
Williams, who reached the semi-finals in 2012, has not been past the second round in Cincy since then.
Serena Williams, who retired from the Toronto WTA final against Bianca Andreescu on Sunday with back spasms, was scheduled to cap the night session with a first-round match against qualifier Zarina Diyas.
Former US Open finalist Madison Keys knocked out 2017 Cincinnati champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5), 6-4.
Muguruza, now ranked 27th, was playing for the first time since her Wimbledon first-round exit.
Former number one Angelique Kerber continued a dismal hardcourt summer, losing in the first round for a second straight week as she fell 7-6 (9/7), 6-2 to Estonian Anett Kontaveit.
Former Cincinnati champion Victoria Azarenka advanced when Belinda Bencic retired with a left foot injury trailing 6-4, 1-0.