Novak Djokovic enjoyed a stress-free return to US competition following a two year absence, after second-round opponent Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was forced to retire after dropping the first set 6-4 at the Cincinnati Open on Wednesday.
Djokovic has not competed in the United States since the 2021 US Open final and was subsequently denied entry into the country because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
He was far from his best in his 46 minutes of action, facing break points at 1-1 before serving his way out of trouble.
Davidovich Fokina took a medical timeout away from the court to tend to a lower back issue while trailing 3-4 and when he returned his movement was limited and he was broken at love.
Handed the opportunity to serve out the set against the ailing Spaniard, Djokovic played an uncharacteristically sloppy game, dumping a forehand into the net to hand the break back.
But the 23-time major winner recovered, flicking a forehand crosscourt passing shot in the next game to capture the opener.
In the first game of the second set, Davidovich Fokina took a step that further aggravated his back injury and soon after walked to the net to shake hands with Djokovic.
“It’s great for me to be able to come back to the court and to win a match but obviously mixed emotions with the way it finished,” said Djokovic.
“Nevertheless I’m hoping I can build my form day to day and progress through the tournament raising my level.”
Up next, Djokovic is meeting with the resurgent Gael Monfils, who beat Alex de Minaur in straight sets earlier in the day.
“He’s an amazing guy, someone I truly respect and like a lot as a person,” said Djokovic, who holds an astounding 18-0 record against the Frenchman.
“He brings so much joy to the fans, so much entertainment. He’s one of the most charismatic players we’ve had in the last two decades on tour and he’s playing better than ever.”
Djokovic, who has seen fans pack into his practice session and who played in a doubles match on Tuesday, could be on a collision course at the US Open tune-up with world number one Carlos Alcaraz, who bested him in the Wimbledon final last month.
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