Djokovic back in groove with straight-sets win

Novak Djokovic looked rusty as he started his clay-court season but still emerged with a 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 win against qualifier Ivan Gakhov at the Monte Carlo Masters.

The two-time Monte Carlo champion had not played since losing to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals of the Dubai Championships five weeks ago, which ended the Australian Open champion’s 20-match winning streak.

The 35-year-old Djokovic, who suffered an opening-round exit last year in the Principality, struggled with consistency in the first set on Tuesday and took time to find his marks on the slow surface.

But he played more aggressively in the second set and broke for 3-2, then did not look back to reach the third round.

“I have not played my best, particularly in the first set,” said Djokovic, who saved three of the four break points he faced. “All in all, I’m just pleased with the way I held my nerves in important moments.”

Djokovic’s next opponent will be Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti or his compatriot Luca Nardi.

Alexander Zverev also started his clay season with a win but dropped a set in a 3-6 6-2 6-4 victory over Alexander Bublik.

The No.13 seed was playing on clay for the first time since a serious right ankle injury forced him to retire in the French Open semi-finals against Rafael Nadal last year.

Zverev said he needed to “get the injury out of my head” and get used to sliding again.

“It felt awful at times to be honest, but he made me feel awful,” Zverev said. “Tactically he played well, he didn’t let me play my game at all. He didn’t let me have my rhythm and he almost won the match, just a few points here and there.”

Two-time semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov also advanced by beating American Ben Shelton 6-1 3-6 6-3. The 20-year-old Shelton tested Dimitrov in a tense contest that lasted more than two hours.

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