Novak Djokovic began the defense of his Paris Masters title with a clinical 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 second round win against American Maxime Cressy on Tuesday.
Arriving in the French capital after back-to-back indoor titles in Tel Aviv and Astana in October, the Serbian stretched his winning run to 10 matches following his summer hiatus.
The number six seed is targeting his fifth title from just 11 events after a season heavily curtailed by his opposition to being vaccinated against Covid.
That stance saw him ejected from Australia before hitting a ball in anger at the Australian Open in January.
And aside from competing in Roger Federer’s farewell to the sport at the Laver Cup he effectively did not play for three months after Wimbledon, the US Open among the tournaments he was forced to sit out.
But he has said he is “super pumped” to finish 2022 in style, and his one hour, 42 minute beating of Cressy also took his winning streak in Paris to 10 matches after claiming the title here in 2019 and 2021, having missed the 2020 edition.
The big-serving Paris-born Cressy proved tough to crack in the opening set, saving three set points before being undone by two double faults in the tie-break.
Djokovic though weathered Cressy’s aggressive but not altogether reliable delivery — he hit 15 aces and 10 double faults — and he got his break on return to lead 5-4 in the second set, to go on to serve out for the match.
“It was very intense, just a lot of pressure,” said the 35-year-old Djokovic, whose winning start was celebrated by the Bercy crowd.
“When you play someone that serves this well — first and second serve — you don’t have much room to relax and maybe play kind of a softer few games.
“You just have to be on your toes all the time.
“I’ve never come up against a player in my career with such a second service.”
“I had to lock in, I had to not give him gifts and points,” added Djokovic, who won his 21st Grand Slam at Wimbledon, one shy of Rafael Nadal’s record 22.
“Just overall very pleased with the way I felt and the way I played.”
Djokovic, seeking his seventh Paris title 13 years after his first, will next face Karen Khachanov in the last 16.
On court Wednesday are top seed Carlos Alcaraz, who takes on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, and Nadal who like his old rival Djokovic faces American opposition in the shape of Tommy Paul.
Nadal, who in October celebrated the birth of a son, Rafael, has not played since the US Open and a last-16 loss to Frances Tiafoe, aside from teaming up with Federer in the doubles at the Laver Cup.
At 36 he says he is no longer motivated to chase the end of year number one spot. He currently lies second to Alcaraz in the ATP rankings.
“I’m at a stage of my career where I’m no longer fighting to be number one, but simply to remain competitive in each tournament that I’m playing in,” Nadal said.
Asked about his state of fitness after a season “extraordinary in terms of results but complicated in terms of injuries” he added: “With an ageing body like mine, when you are coming back from a lay-off, it’s difficult to know how you are going to react and play.”