Tokyo (AFP/APP): World number one Novak Djokovic displayed steady recovery of his left shoulder injury Tuesday by defeating an Australian challenger at the Japan Open, his first competition since pulling out of the US Open.
The experienced Serbian top-seed claimed a 6-4, 6-2 victory against 20-year-old Alexei Popyrin, who fought bravely at the Ariake Colosseum, a venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Djokovic added his shoulder felt “good” and declared that he has set his eyes on an Olympic medal next year.
Popyrin mixed big serves with delicate drop shots to stage courageous offensives against 32-year-old Djokovic. But Djokovic, taking part in a Japanese competition for the first time, kept his calm to always stay a step above the Aussie, never giving his opponent a break point, consistently playing at a “high-level” with “good intensity.”
Djokovic nailed seven aces, against eight by Popyrin, and managed to win points on 84 percent of his successful first serves. He finished the roughly 90-minute match by winning the final five games straight. He will now face Japanese wild card Go Soeda on Wednesday. “Very pleased overall with the game,” Djokovic said after the win. It was his first singles competition since he withdrew from his US Open fourth-round match against Swiss Stan Wawrinka due to a left shoulder injury.
Djokovic said he has no immediate worries about his shoulder. “I have not felt anything in previous days, including today on the match. So I am very pleased to say that I feel healthy,” he said.
When asked about his ambitions about winning an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo next year, Djokovic said it would be “a dream come true.” “It definitely is one of the greatest wishes, if I can say so, the gold in the next season and the rest of my career,” said Djokovic, a bronze medal winner at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“Hopefully I can get at least a step further in Tokyo. I still feel young in my body and my spirit as well. I still feel motivated to do great things on the court,” he said. Meanwhile, Djokovic was marking his 271st week as the world’s number one, claiming the title of the third longest weeks in the top spot, and passing the record of American great Ivan Lendl.
The Serbian is now chasing Pete Sampras with 286 weeks, and Roger Federer with 310 weeks. In the rest of the Tokyo tournament, Japanese wild card Taro Daniel, ranked 127, pulled off an upset victory against second-seeded Borna Coric of Croatia, ranked 14th, with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7/5) win in a gruelling match that stretched over two hours and 30 minutes.
Japanese qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama defeated French fourth-seed Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-2. Reilly Opelka of the US defeated his countryman seventh-seed Taylor Fritz 6-3, 6-4. Frenchman Gilles Simon cruised by Spanish qualifier Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-0.