In his first appearance at the Erste Bank Open since his 2007 title run, Novak Djokovic passed an early test to defeat countryman Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-3 on Tuesday.
Djokovic dropped serve twice in the first set and was forced to save set point at 5/6, before coming back to earn his place in the second round. The World No. 1, who struck 39 winners against Krajinovic, has now won 38 of his 40 matches this year.
“I was lucky in the first set… We are good friends, we train a lot [together] and it is never easy to play someone that you are very close to,” said Djokovic in an on-court interview. “He is a very nice guy and I have known him since he was very young. I followed him, I tried to be there as a friend, as a mentor. We go back a long way.
”We practised a few times [together] before coming to Vienna. The draw was tough for us to face each other, but there is always extra pressure and importance to a match when you play someone that you know very well.”
Djokovic added 45 FedEx ATP Rankings points to his tally with his second ATP Head2Head victory in three matches against Krajinovic. The Serbian is attempting to tie Pete Sampras’ record of six year-end World No. 1 finishes this year.
Djokovic was competing for the first time since his runner-up finish at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal). The 33-year-old will next face Borna Coric for a place in the quarter-finals.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against Coric. The pair most recently met in the 2018 Rolex Shanghai Masters final, which Djokovic won 6-3, 6-4. Coric earned his place in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Taylor Fritz on Monday.
In a first set that featured four service breaks, Djokovic and Krajinovic entertained the crowd in Vienna with their all-court skills and attacking tennis. Krajinovic took the initiative and hit his targets to earn set point at 6/5 in the tie-break, but Djokovic held firm with consistency from the baseline to extract crucial errors and earn a one-set lead.
Djokovic raised his game in the second set and earned an early break to take control of the match. The 2007 champion returned with depth and attacked with his forehand to close the match in just under two hours.
“[In the] first set, I think he was the better player. He was serving for the first set and I was lucky. He missed a smash at 6/6 in the tie-break,” said Djokovic. “A few points here and there can change the momentum of the match. In the second set, I stepped it up, I played better and I am just pleased with the way I finished the match.”
Grigor Dimitrov advanced to the second round in Vienna for the second straight year with a 7-6(6), 6-3 victory against Karen Khachanov. The Bulgarian converted three of four break points against the two-time Vienna quarter-finalist to improve to 17-10 in 2020.
“Karen is such an excellent player, such a heavy hitter,” said Dimitrov in an on-court interview. “In conditions like that, the court favours him quite a bit but I was able to just play a very solid game and take the right decisions at the right time.”
Hubert Hurkacz broke serve on four occasions to beat Attila Balazs of Hungary 6-3, 7-5. The 23-year-old will face Dusan Lajovic or Lorenzo Sonego for a place in the quarter-finals.