Sharp Novak Djokovic steps up a gear to reach Dubai quarters while Andrey Rublev saves five match points
Novak Djokovic’s return to action at the Dubai Duty Free Championships continued with a straight-sets victory over Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the second round.
The world No 1 played his first match since January’s Australian Open triumph – that took him to a record-equalling 22 Grand Slam titles – on Tuesday, getting past Czech Tomas Machac in three sets.
And Djokovic followed that up by seeing off Griekspoor, ranked 39th in the world, 6-2 6-3 on Wednesday to move into the quarter-finals.
The Serbian, who had defied a hamstring issue to triumph in Melbourne, claimed each of the opening three games of the contest and secured the first set with a second break.
He took a 5-0 lead in set two, which included emerging triumphant from an epic game on Griekspoor’s serve lasting more than 15 minutes, before the Dutchman hit back with a break to slightly delay Djokovic’s march to victory.
Djokovic delivers in Dubai 📬
13 trips to @DDFTennis, 13 QFs following a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Griekspoor#DDFTennis | @DjokerNole pic.twitter.com/vvafquRHaS
— ATP Tour (@atptour) March 1, 2023
In an on-court interview after the match, Djokovic said: “It’s been a great evening for me tonight.
“Yesterday I really had to work hard to get a win. Tonight I think right from the blocks at the beginning I was sharp, I played definitely better quality tennis than I did last night, and maybe the last three or four games weren’t the best to close the match, but I managed to find the good serve in the end.
“I’m very pleased with the performance, with the way I felt on the court and hopefully things can go in the right direction for tomorrow.
“(It was) much closer to the best level than it was yesterday. I probably didn’t expect to play that well tonight, considering last night’s match, but here we go – every day is a new day, a new opportunity.”
Djokovic also described Griekspoor, 26, as “one of the most improved players on the Tour”, before the 35-year-old added with a smile: “The new generations are coming – but I’m not afraid!”
The world No 1 will face either fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz or qualifier Pavel Kotov in the last eight.
In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Andrey Rublev saved five match points to record a brilliant 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-3) victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Rublev also saved match points in the Doha last week and at the Australian Open.
“It happened already [three times] this season and I’m super happy that I’m able to win these matches against [top players],” the second seed said. “The beginning [of today’s match] wasn’t good. I got frustrated. He started really well, he was hitting really hard, and I didn’t have many options, but then, little by little, I started to play and started to fight.
“I started to be positive, and I made this crazy tie-break comeback from 1/6 that I’ve never done in my life before… I’m really, really happy.”
Up next is Botic van de Zandschulp with the winner of that encounter facing either seventh seed Alexander Zverev or Lorenzo Sonego. World No 67 Sonego caused the biggest upset of the tournament so far as he defeated fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 while Zverev secured a 7-5, 6-4 win over Christopher O’Connell.
READ MORE: Novak Djokovic has a new rival for No 1 spot according to UTR rankings
Little changes for world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz in Miami
Carlos Alcaraz isn’t out to reinvent the wheel.
Carlos Alcaraz will bring the best out of Jannik Sinner, Taylor Fritz, Daniil Medvedev
The likes of Jannik Sinner, Taylor Fritz, Daniil Medvedev will need to lift their game to compete with Carlos Alcaraz.
Is there any way that Carlos Alcaraz can improve?
Carlos Alcaraz was dominant at Indian Wells.
Roger Federer gets another net worth bump as On stocks soar
Roger Federer can’t stop winning.
Andrey Rublev is not caught up with being Russian No 1
Andrey Rublev doesn’t need to be the top Russian.
Roger Federer welcomes world No 1 Iga Swiatek and Ben Shelton to the On team
Roger Federer is thrilled to welcome two generational talents to On apparel.
Monica Seles sees herself in Naomi Osaka
Monica Seles is hopeful that Naomi Osaka will return to tennis after the birth of her first child.
Martina Navratilova opens up on cancer battle in emotional interview
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova has opened up on her cancer battle.
Miami Open draw: Andy Murray on collision course with Carlos Alcaraz
Andy Murray is lined up with a Round of 32 meeting against world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
Naomi Osaka sets out to become a mental health champion
Naomi Osaka is out to hit a winner for mental health.