Dream Debut: Djokovic Dominant In Tokyo
Serbian star set to face Soeda in second round
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic made a victorious singles debut at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships on Tuesday, defeating #NextGenATP Aussie Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round in Tokyo.
“I thought from really the beginning to the end, I played really well and on a consistent, high level and [with] good intensity,” Djokovic said.
It was a positive sign from the ATP 500 tournament’s top seed, who was competing on the singles court for the first time since retiring during his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka at the US Open due to a shoulder injury. The Serbian took care of his serve well, going throughout the one-hour, 29-minute encounter without facing a break point.
“Shoulder is good. I have not felt anything in the previous days, including today, in the match,” Djokovic said. “So I am very pleased to say that and to feel healthy.”
Although Popyrin had to qualify here, the 20-year-old was a dangerous opponent due to his powerful, aggressive game. At the US Open, Popyrin was a service hold away from pushing eventual semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini to a fifth set. He also defeated Dominic Thiem at this year’s Australian Open.
But Djokovic was solid throughout, striking seven aces and winning 44 per cent of his return points. The Serbian has advanced to at least the second round in all 12 tournaments he has played in this year.
“[I] had plenty of chances on his service games, also in the beginning of the first set. Played him for the first time, obviously. Young player with a big game from the back of the court, a big serve,” Djokovic said. “[I] managed to make that crucial break of serve in the first set at 4-4 that definitely helped me step it up even more. In the second set I ended up the match in a good fashion and I’m very pleased overall with the game.”
Monday was a historic one for Djokovic, marking his 271st week atop the ATP Rankings, passing Ivan Lendl (270) for third alll-time, trailing only Roger Federer (310) and Pete Sampras (286).
Djokovic will next face home favourite Go Soeda. The Japanese player had an 0-12 record in Tokyo main draws before defeating German Jan-Lennard Struff in his own tournament opener.
Did You Know?
Djokovic has won the title on his tournament main draw debut nine times previously, most recently in Eastbourne two years ago.