Novak Djokovic took the first step toward his current goal of a 30th Masters 1000 title on Wednesday as the top seed advanced in his opening match in Toronto.
Djokovic stepped back onto a hardcourt for the first time since winning the Miami final nearly four months ago, emerging with a 7-5, 7-6 (3) defeat of Gilles Muller.
Djokovic had not played since going out in a third-round Wimbledon upset loss to Californian Sam Querrey.
He admitted that getting back to hardcourt form was a challenge.
“The ball moved very fast in the heat, it was hard to control. The match was not easy to play. But I managed to stay tough.
“I was disappointed to lose serve twice in the second set when I was up a break, but I was just glad to close this out in straight sets.”
Djokovic has now won all but three of his last 22 matches in Canada, playing quarter-finals or better in eight of the past nine years.
The 2015 Canada finalist improved to 47-4 in 2016, winning six titles.
Djokovic will next play Czech veteran Radek Stepanek, a 37-year-old who put out Canada’s Peter Polansky 7-6 (5), 6-4. Djokovic leads that series 11-1.
There was a victory for third seed Kei Nishikori, with Asia’s top player beating American qualifier Dennis Novikov 6-4, 7-5.
“I knew I was going to get up-and-downs because I haven’t played matches long time,” said Nishikori, who quit his last match at Wimbledon injured. “I didn’t practise much, but I played good tennis.”
Canadian fourth seed Milos Raonic was untroubled by Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun, posting a 6-3, 6-3 win in just 66 minutes with eight aces.
The recent Wimbledon finalist is now into a match with American Jared Donaldson, who beat Italian Fabio Fognini 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
There was hip injury disappointment for Austrian sixth seed Dominic Thiem, who has changed his travel plans after lasting just 20 minutes in a 4-1 loss to Kevin Anderson. He is heading home for scans on a lingering hip problem.
Thiem, who has burst through the rankings this season, is fighting out of a minor slump after losing in the Wimbledon second round, going down ill and then losing in an opening match at his home event in Kitzbuehel.
“I felt it (the hip) since like two weeks,” Thiem said. “It didn’t get worse. I decided to go out and to try, but yeah, obviously it didn’t work out against such a good player.
“Maybe I was practising a little bit too hard after the sickness, because obviously I wanted to play well in Kitzbuhel. I played very well the whole season until Wimbledon, and if you play that well also the body works well.
“But when the body needs a little rest you lose the feeling. It’s the time to just give the body a little bit of time to really get 100 percent.”
Thiem long ago withdrew from the Rio Olympics and will now prepare for a new event in Mexico next month.
Belgian seventh seed David Goffin took an easy win as Querrey pulled out while 6-4, 2-1 in their second-round match due to back pain.
Ryan Harrison beat seeded American compatriot John Isner, the number nine, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (4), 6-4; Australian 12th seed Bernard Tomic stopped Steven Diez of Canada 6-3, 7-6 (4). The 13th seed Lucas Pouille lost to Rajeev Ram 6-4, 7-6.
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