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Djokovic wins Paris Masters opener in bid to reclaim No. 1

AP

Novak Djokovic began his bid for a record-extending fifth Paris Masters title with a 7-5, 6-1 win against Joao Sousa in the second round on Tuesday, and lent a helping hand to a spectator in the process.

Serving for the match at 5-1, Djokovic handed a towel to a man in the crowd who seemed unwell and who wiped his forehead with it.

“It seemed he was sweating and he seemed dizzy, so he just needed help,” Djokovic said. “I just gave him the towel.”

Djokovic revealed he also was not feeling very well out on court.

“I wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t want to get into details but I think it’s a minor thing.”

The second-ranked Serb set up match point with an ace and sealed victory on his third match point when Sousa returned a second serve long.

The U.S. Open champion won four of the last five tournaments he has entered, including Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and most recently the Shanghai Masters.

Djokovic is seeking to reclaim the top ranking from Rafael Nadal at a tournament Nadal has never won. Djokovic next faces Damir Dzumhur.

Dzumhur upset 14th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-3, while big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov also advanced to the third round. He led 6-2, 2-0 against Matthew Ebden when the Australian retired.

Returning from a right knee injury, Nadal faces Spanish countryman Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday, with 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer also in action against Milos Raonic. Federer leads the big-serving Canadian 11-3 overall.

Federer’s last appearance at the Paris indoor event was a third-round loss to big-serving John Isner in 2015. There were doubts Federer would play after a grueling past week, which saw him clinch his ninth victory at the Swiss Indoors and 99th overall.

“I feel good,” Federer told a news conference. “I feel like I recovered well from last week.”

The 37-year-old Federer is selective of when he plays in order to keep his body as fresh as possible, and he skipped the entire clay-court season for the second straight year.

With the season-ending ATP Finals in London starting Nov. 11, he is playing three straight tournaments. But the third-ranked Federer feels comfortable with it.

“I feel like it’s better for me to play matches rather than practice,” Federer said. “As long as I don’t feel like I’m taking a chance on my health prior to London, that’s the key as well.”

Federer showed fighting qualities last week in Basel, where he was twice taken to three sets and went an early break down in three of his last four matches.

“I was a bit bumpy. But I was happy how I was fighting, how I was trying to figure it out in a different manner,” he said. “Last week was special to win the way I did it, in a different manner.”

Federer moved within 10 titles of Jimmy Connors all-time singles record. The Australian Open champion is drawn in the same half as Djokovic, Australian Open runner-up Marin Cilic and big-serving Kevin Anderson, who upset Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year.

In first-round play Tuesday, there were wins for Mikhail Kukushkin, Gilles Simon, Daniil Medvedev, Marton Fucsovics, Raonic and Verdasco.

Federer declines Saudi trip

Federer turned down an invitation to play in a planned exhibition match in Saudi Arabia in December which his rivals Djokovic and Nadal have committed to play in.

Saudi Arabia is under growing pressure from the international community following the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi after he entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. He was a Washington Post columnist who had written critically of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

Djokovic and Nadal have expressed doubt as to whether they will play an exhibition match at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Dec. 22, but they have not withdrawn. Both players have said the invitations were made at least one year ago.

Asked on Tuesday if he was also previously invited, Federer said “they contacted me too, yeah.”

The Swiss star was then asked why he turned it down.

“I didn’t want to play there at that time,” he said. “So, for me, it was a very quick decision.”

Amnesty International has urged Nadal and Djokovic not to play.

“Of course I’m aware of the situation. But I had a commitment since one year ago to play there. And my team is talking to them, to analyze the things. That’s it,” Nadal said when asked his position on Sunday.

“It’s terrible that one journalist lost (his) life. I know something happened very bad inside there. So we are looking about how evolves the situation and I hope the things will clarify as soon as possible.”

Djokovic also made it clear that the decision to play was made a long time ago.

“We have the commitment with them for over a year, actually last year when we were discussing this potential matchup,” he said. “It was my professional tennis decision to do that. Of course I know, I’m aware of what’s happening, and it’s sad, of course.”

The top-ranked Serb also stopped short of confirming his presence.

“My team right now is in touch with the people in Saudi Arabia as well as Rafa’s and of course we are all talking to understand the situation better,” the 14-time Grand Slam champion said Sunday. “Because right now we just don’t have obviously enough information, and we have to look into that a bit more and then we’ll make our decision soon.”

He added: “We have to get more information on what’s happening so we can make a rational decision whether it’s good to go or not.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the investigation needs to be completed swiftly and wants an extradition request for 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia to be put on trial in Istanbul.

The country is also asking Saudi Arabia to help locate Khashoggi’s body, which still has not been found.

Turkey alleges a hit squad from Saudi Arabia traveled to Istanbul to kill the journalist and then tried to cover it up.