World No. 1 Novak Djokovic displayed steady recovery of his left shoulder injury Tuesday by defeating an Australian challenger at the Japan Rakuten Open, his first competition since pulling out of the U.S. Open.
The experienced Serbian top seed claimed a 6-4, 6-2 victory against 20-year-old Alexei Popyrin, who fought bravely at Ariake Colosseum.
Popyrin mixed big serves with delicate drop shots to stage courageous offensives against 32-year-old Djokovic.
But Djokovic, taking part in a Japan-based competition for the first time, kept his calm to always stay a step above the Aussie, never giving his opponent a break point while breaking once in the first set and twice in the second set.
Djokovic nailed seven aces, against eight by Popyrin, and managed to win points on 84 percent of his successful first serves.
He finished the roughly 90-minute match by winning the final five games straight.
It was Djokovic’s first singles competition since he withdrew from his U.S. Open fourth-round match against Swiss Stan Wawrinka due to a left shoulder injury.
As he prepared to take on the singles tournament, Djokovic played and lost a doubles match here on Monday and said his shoulder felt “fine.”
Wawrinka decided not to participate in the Tokyo tournament due to injuries.
Djokovic was marking his 271st week as the world No. 1, claiming the title of the third longest weeks in the top spot, and passing the record of Ivan Lendl.
The Serbian is now chasing Pete Sampras with 286 weeks and Roger Federer with 310 weeks.
Also Tuesday, wild card Taro Daniel, ranked 127th, pulled off an upset victory against second-seeded Borna Coric of Croatia, ranked 14th, with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) win in a grueling match that stretched over 2 hours and 30 minutes.
“It was tough (facing Coric) but I felt like it wasn’t impossible,” said Daniel, who advanced to the second round here for the first time.
“My opponent made a lot of errors, but I’m just happy to finally win one in Tokyo.”
Qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama defeated French fourth seed Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-2.
Reilly Opelka of the U.S. defeated his compatriot Taylor Fritz, the seventh seed, 6-3, 6-4.
Frenchman Gilles Simon cruised by Spanish qualifier Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-0.