DJOKOVIC PLEASED WITH START
Novak Djokovic returned to his quest for titles after one of the biggest disappointments of his career with a hard-hitting, straight-sets success before a packed stadium at the Dubai Open yesterday.
The 6-3, 6-3 victory over Denis Istomen, a talented world No. 53 from Uzbekistan, was ideal competitive rehabilitation for the seven-time Grand Slam winner after his loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in Melbourne last month.
The ambience was lively enough to summon adrenalin, the opposition capable enough to create good rallies, and the outcome encouraging enough for Djokovic to feel he can win his fifth title here.
If he does, he will equal the record of Roger Federer, whom he should meet in Friday's semi-finals.
But, even more important for Djokovic, is to feel that the "food for the soul" he says he took from childhood haunts during a five-week break is now feeding his self-belief.
He had more than 20 unforced errors but, often served well, too, despite missing some chances to finish rallies.
Yet he always won the points and games that really mattered in a colourfully patchwork performance.
"My game isn't where I want it to be," Djokovic admitted. "But I am still happy with this start.
"It's just the match situation - it's quite different from the practice court. You have thousands of people watching you and it can be mentally tough.
"And not having competed for so long, it takes a toll. My body feels it a little bit. But I will get back to work. It's work and I love it at the same time."
Djokovic next plays Roberto Bautista Agut, the world No. 51 from Spain, while Federer will take on Radek Stepanek, a former top-10 player from the Czech Republic.
The tournament's second seed, however, did not survive.
Juan Martin del Potro, the former US Open champion who became the ATP Tour's comeback player of the year after recovering from a career-threatening wrist injury, was struck down by a similar ailment.
The courageous and usually hard-hitting Argentine lasted little more than an hour and only one set in the Dubai Open, before requiring lengthy treatment on his left wrist after which he called it quits against Somdev Devvarman, a wildcard entry from India.
"My wrist is hurting a lot and, you know, everybody knows what's happened to me four years ago with my other wrist," said del Potro.
"It's hurting all the time, sometimes less and sometimes a little more. But it's hurting, and I have been in contact with my doctor all the time.
"He's trying to keep me motivated to keep playing, but I know what is my limit playing on court. Today was enough.
"I cannot say that (it will be surgery) yet, but I'm feeling similar pains to the other hand and what I felt four years ago. It's not really positive for my future."
Tomas Berdych, the third-seeded Czech who reached the final last year, may be one of those who benefits from del Potro's misfortune as they were seeded to meet in Friday's semi-finals.
Berdych scored his 13th win in 14 matches, a 6-3, 6-4 success against Marius Copil, a Romanian qualifier.