MASON, OHIO – Top-ranked Novak Djokovic came back to beat Gilles Simon 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in his opening match at the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.
The Cincinnati tournament is the only Masters series event Djokovic has never won, finishing as the runnerup four times. If he wins this week, he’ll become the first with titles at all nine ATP Masters events.
First, he had to get past Simon. He had trouble putting away the Frenchman, whom he has now beaten eight straight times. The opening game of the third set went 20 points and 15 minutes, with Simon surviving six break points.
Djokovic finally broke through for a 4-3 lead and served out the 2-hour, 9-minute match. The last set alone took 59 minutes. Djokovic had 36 unforced errors in the breezy evening conditions.
“Let’s be honest: I don’t enjoy playing bad,” Djokovic said. “I don’t enjoy missing a lot of balls from the baseline. That was frustrating for me.
“I’m not playing at a level that I need to be, and it’s obvious. I keep pushing myself.”
On the women’s side, Kurumi Nara made short work of Romina Oprandi with a straight-sets win in the first round.
Nara, ranked 34th in the world, took just 47 minutes to book her spot in the next round, cruising to a 6-0, 6-2 victory
“I had a few nerves at the start but gained momentum from winning points in the first set,” said Nara, who lost in the Citi Open final in Washington earlier this month.
“I am getting results recently and feel like I am fundamentally getting stronger.”
Kimiko Date-Krumm and Czech partner Andrea Hlavackova reached the second round of the women’s doubles with a 3-6, 6-1, 10-3 win over Casey Dellacqua and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
The tournament lost its defending women’s champion on Tuesday when Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of an injured right knee. Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal withdrew before the tournament because of an injured wrist.
While Djokovic managed to advance despite his struggles, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Venus Williams made quick exits.
Two days after he beat Roger Federer for his second Masters title in Toronto, Tsonga lost to Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-4.
“I don’t have the energy to compete,” Tsonga said after the 68-minute match. “I just gave everything last week. Before the match, I believed I was able to play at a good level. But on court, I realized that was going to be impossible. And it was.”
Williams beat sister Serena while reaching the finals in Montreal on Sunday, finishing runner-up. She lost to Lucie Safarova 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 6-4 in the first round Tuesday.
Williams and Tsonga had energizing weeks in Canada and hoped to keep their momentum going in Cincinnati, using it as a springboard to the U.S. Open. Both soon realized their successful weeks came with a cost.
Williams arrived Sunday night and opened Tuesday morning, leaving little time to recover from her deep tournament run.
“Yeah, it was definitely a quick turnaround,” she said. “Maybe it would have been a little better to play a little later in the day. But I think she just played so well. No matter what shot I hit, she hit a winner.”
Tsonga beat Djokovic, Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov and Federer to win in Toronto, the first time in 12 years a player beat four straight top 10 opponents at a Masters tournament. He arrived Monday and couldn’t practice because of rain. He plans to rest for a few days.
“I didn’t have enough today to compete at a good level,” he said.
Fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova broke Madison Keys to go up 3-0 in the final set and held on for a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win.