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Djokovic, Simon, Advance; Gasquet Ousts Safin

Dubai, U.A.E.

Marat SafinAFP/Getty ImagesMarat Safin

ATP World No. 3 Novak Djokovic was not at his best but came through unscathed as he opened his title bid at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships on Tuesday. The top seed defeated Italian qualifier Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 6-2 to reach the second round of the ATP World Tour 500 tennis tournament.

In the one-hour 36-minute match, Djokovic responded from having his serve broken twice by converting five of the 11 break point chances that he created on the serve of Cipolla – who was already comfortable with the conditions after two rounds of qualifying at the weekend.

“I'm happy that I'm through in straight sets, but certainly it wasn't the performance I was looking for,” confessed Djokovic. “I didn't expect him to play so many short balls and with a change of pace and that's probably what didn't give me a lot of rhythm. It's my first match, and I didn't have a lot of practice here and arrived two days ago from Europe. But it's all right. Hopefully I can go with my game towards the finish of the tournament.”

The 21-year-old Djokovic won four titles in 2008 – including the Australian Open and Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai – and is this week looking for his first trophy of the 2009 season. The Serbian, who has opened with a 10-4 match record, is yet to reach top gear this season. He suffered a first round loss in Brisbane in the first week of the season, reached the semi-finals in Sydney (l. to Nieminen), retired with a heat-related illness against Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and last week was subjected to a fourth successive defeat against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Marseille semi-finals.

In the second round he will face Jan Hernych, whom he defeated last week in Marseille. The Czech player advanced after defeating Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. The world No. 66 was a semi-finalist in Zagreb (l. to Ancic – had three match points) and has a 5-4 match record.

Third seed Gilles Simon passed a stern opening round test as he prevailed 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 against Kuwait wild card Mohammed Ghareeb.

Playing in his first ATP World Tour match since losing to Nikolay Davydenko in the Dubai first round last year, Ghareeb recovered from surrendering his original advantage in the opening set to break serve once more and assume a one-set lead. However, the eighth-ranked Simon regrouped to convert three of nine break points in the following two sets to secure victory after two hours and seven minutes.

“At the beginning of the match, I was really playing badly,” confessed Simon. “I had a lot of problems in my game, with my forehand and finally it was better game after game. But after he was confident and he just played an amazing match. So that's why it was so hard.”

“I played better than I thought I would,” said Ghareeb, who won his lone match in Dubai (1-5 record) three years ago over Omar Bahrouzyan before falling to World No. 1 Roger Federer. “I'm very happy about the way I played, and it's a great experience that I played against these top players so that I can learn a lot and try to improve on my game.”

The 24-year-old Simon improved to a 9-4 match record on the season. The Nice native advanced to the Australian Open quarter-finals (l. to Nadal) for the first time and last week reached the semi-finals in Marseille (l. to Llodra). He is making his second appearance in Dubai after losing in the second round (l. to Santoro) in 2007 and goes on to face Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili.

Simon was joined in the second round by compatriot Richard Gasquet, who upset eighth seed and 2001 finalist Marat Safin (pictured) 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. The Frenchman broke once to love in the sixth game of the first set, which sufficed for a one set lead. Former World No. 1 Safin, who has declared this will be his final year on tour, settled down in the second set and his improved tennis was rewarded as he broke in the 12th game to level the match. However, Gasquet quickly regrouped to open up a 2-0 lead in the third set and went on to break once more in the ninth game to wrap up victory after one hour and 54 minutes.

World No. 26 Gasquet, who was ranked as high as No. 7 on July 9, 2007, improved to a 9-4 match record in 2009. The Beziers native opened with successive semi-final appearances at Brisbane (l. to Stepanek) and Sydney (l. to Stepanek) and reached the third round at the Australian Open before suffering back-to-back first round losses at Rotterdam and Marseille.

"I'm feeling confident," declared Gasquet afterwards. "I played well in Australia. I played a lot of matches there. I had pain with the shoulder last week, so I didn't know if I could play here. I am happy because I have no pain. That was the most important for me. I'm playing well, I defeated Marat, so I feel confident for my next matches."

Gasquet goes on to face Simone Bolelli of Italy, this week ranked a career-high No. 36 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, who improved to a 4-5 match record after knocking out Serbian Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-4. The 23 year old will look to reach his first ATP World tour quarter-final since Basel (l. to Federer) in October 2008.

German Philipp Kohlschreiber set up a second round clash with fourth seed David Ferrer after breaking serve five times in easing past Swiss qualifier Michael Lammer 6-1, 6-1. The 39th-ranked right-hander opened his season with successive quarter-final appearances at Doha (l. to Federer) and Auckland (W/O vs. Ferrer) before suffering a second round exit at the Australian Open and a first round loss in Rotterdam.

France’s Julien Benneteau will meet fifth seed Marin Cilic in the second round after knocking out Jurgen Melzer 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. The 45th-ranked right-hander is coming off successive quarter-final showings in Rotterdam (l. to Monfils) and Marseille (l. to Simon).

Sixth seed Igor Andreev dropped only four points behind his first serve and converted four of eight break points as he knocked out South African lucky loser Rik De Voest 6-4, 6-0. The 2008 quarter-finalist advanced to an all-Russian meeting with Dmitry Tursunov, who accounted for Italy’s Andreas Seppi 6-1, 6-4.

 

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