Madrid: Novak Djokovic scored his best-ranked victory in almost a year by coming through his nightmare first round against World No 20 Kei Nishikori at the Madrid Open on Monday.
The 12-time major champion could now face Kyle Edmund in round two if the Briton wins his own awkward opener on Tuesday against the talented Daniil Medvedev.
Not long ago, Djokovic versus Nishikori would have been a match for the latter stages of a grand slam but struggles with fitness and form caused these two to meet first up on Manolo Santana.
Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 6-4, producing some scintillating tennis when it mattered most to register his first win over a top-20 opponent since the Serb beat Gael Monfils at Eastbourne in June last year.
At their best, Djokovic and Nishikori were perhaps the game's two outstanding athletes, renowned for their speed in defence and stamina over five sets.
But injuries, to the wrist for Nishikori and elbow for Djokovic, have left each attempting recoveries and it was certainly evident here that both are still some way away.
If Edmund beats Medvedev, he may fancy his chances against a player he is yet to take a set off in three meetings.
Djokovic, however, will be keen to draw on the positives. His movement was better and he delivered in the crunch moments. There were also a handful of breathtaking retrievals the 30-year-old would have been proud of in his prime.
Four games both players would have liked to forget prompted an exchange of breaks in the middle of the opening set but Djokovic stepped up a gear at 5-4.
Nishikori resisted two rasping forehands but finally caved two games later as Djokovic clinched the frame.
Djokovic seemingly defied physics by lashing one smash into the net early in the second but found his groove again at 5-4, breaking Nishikori to seal victory in just under two hours.
Wozniacki, Sharapova advance
World No 2 Caroline Wozniacki survived a scare from Ashleigh Barty on Monday, edging the Australian 6-2 4-6 6-4 to reach the last-16 of the Madrid Open.
Wozniacki found herself on the brink of defeat as she trailed 4-2 in the final set, but the Dane roared back to claim the last four games to seal the victory.
The 22-year-old Barty was ultimately let down by her groundstrokes in crucial stages of decider as she finished with 54 unforced errors for the match.
Wozniacki will next face former French Open semi-finalist Kiki Bertens, who stunned 15th seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-1 6-4 in the second round.
Former World No 1 Maria Sharapova's revival on clay is gathering pace as she overcame a tense opening set to beat Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5 6-1.
The 31-year-old Russian, who entered the tournament on the back of four consecutive defeats, rallied from 3-1 down before snatching the opening set with a ferocious forehand.
With momentum on her side, Sharapova won 20 of the last 22 points to secure a spot in the last-16.
"Although I didn't play at my best level in the first set, I pulled it through," the five-time grand slam champion told a news conference.
"I played some really tough points. I hung in there, especially in that final game. Then I really set up a good opportunity for me to step up.
"I thought I did a really good job of that, especially in the last six games. I was very aggressive, played deep, returned a lot better. That will certainly help me moving forward."
Unseeded Sharapova will next face last year's finalist Kristina Mladenovic, who edged China's Zhang Shuai 6-4 4-6 6-3.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: May 08, 2018 00:48:16 IST