World number one Novak Djokovic impressed again at his first tournament since being deported ahead of the Australian Open, beating Russian Karen Khachanov 6-3 7-6(2) to reach the Dubai Championships quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Just as against Lorenzo Musetti in his opening match here on Monday, Djokovic received plenty of vocal support from a large crowd at the Aviation Club and responded with some dazzling tennis under the lights.
The 20-times Grand Slam champion dominated the opening set after breaking serve in the fourth game with a winner.
It was much more of a battle in the second set as Khachanov recovered from an early break of serve to level the set at 4-4.
Djokovic was forced to pull out all the stops to fend off a fired-up Khachanov, forging ahead in the tiebreak and claiming victory on his first match point with a superb return.
The Serbian is competing for the first time this year after his hopes of winning a 10th Australian Open title were dashed when he was deported following an 11-day saga revolving around his decision not to have a COVID-19 vaccination and the subsequent exemption he was granted to play in the event.
Two court hearings were required before Djokovic was expelled on Jan. 16 having spent several days in a quarantine hotel, with the country’s immigration minister revoking his visa on the basis that he could fuel anti-vaccine sentiment if allowed to compete. Read full story
His absence from Melbourne allowed career-rival Rafa Nadal to win the title and move ahead in the race to claim the most men’s Grand Slam titles, reaching 21.
Djokovic could also lose his number one ranking in the next week even if he wins the Dubai title.
Russian Daniil Medvedev, who Nadal beat in a thrilling Australian Open final, will take the top ranking if he wins the Acapulco title.
Djokovic said he was just happy to be back on court after a difficult start to the year.
“I missed it, obviously. This is my life. This is what I have known (how) to do — and will still keep on doing — for the last 20 years. Professional tennis is my love,” he said on court.