Novak Djokovic needed 10 match points to see off Borna Coric in the Monte Carlo Masters second round on Wednesday, while world number one Rafael Nadal eased past Aljaz Bedene 6-1, 6-3.
Djokovic, playing only his fourth tournament with Nadal since Wimbledon last July after struggling with a right elbow injury, overcame some late nerves to win 7-6 (7/2), 7-5. “It was a real battle. I mean, I could have won the match earlier definitely, but it was great to deal with these kind of emotions again,” said the 12-time Grand Slam champion.
Djokovic is working with long-time former coach Marian Vajda for the first time in almost a year after splitting from Andre Agassi, and the 30-year-old has looked rejuvenated in Monaco after early exits in Indian Wells and Miami.
The Serbian will next face Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem with a possible quarter-final against defending champion Nadal, who plays Karen Khachanov in the last 16 on Thursday, up for grabs.
But Djokovic insisted he wasn’t looking past the clash with Thiem, a French Open semi-finalist in each of the last two years.
“It’s disrespectful towards Dominic and Dominic’s tennis… To think about and talk about potentially a match-up with Nadal,” Djokovic added.
“Last year in Roland Garros he beat me in straight sets. He’s definitely (a) top-three player in the world on clay.”
Djokovic came through a tight first set in a tie-break and moved a break clear in the second, before late drama as he tried to close out the match.
The 39th-ranked Coric saved two match points on his own serve with Djokovic leading the second set 5-3, before fighting back from 40-0 down as the former world number one struggled to get over the line.
A succession of wild backhands and a tame forehand into the net saw four more match points come and go, before Coric levelled the set at 5-5 as Djokovic blasted wide and long.
The Nadal ninth seed rediscovered his composure, though, to break again and finally complete the job at the 10th time of asking as Coric sent a backhand flying long.
– Nadal thrashes Bedene –
Nadal started his bid for an 11th Monte Carlo title with a comfortable victory over Slovenia’s Bedene.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner, like Djokovic, is looking for a record 31st Masters title, and he swatted aside Bedene for the loss of only four games.
Nadal brought up set point in the opener with a trademark, curling forehand up the line, before sealing the set with a drop shot.
Bedene, who switched his allegiance back to Slovenia from Britain earlier this year, put up some resistance in the second set, but Nadal broke through in game seven.
The 31-year-old Spaniard wrapped up a comfortable victory in the Monaco sunshine with another break as Bedene hit a forehand into the net.
“It’s very important to start with a victory, that helps. And I’m going to try and keep going,” said Nadal, playing his first tour event since his injury-hit Australian Open quarter-final exit.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori continued his comeback from injury with an impressive 7-5, 6-2 win over Russian Daniil Medvedev.
The former world number four, who has struggled over the last year with a right wrist injury, followed up his first-round victory against Tomas Berdych with a solid display on centre court.
“The first set was a real battle, he was playing a little better than me I think at the beginning,” said Nishikori.
“Nadal just tried to stay calm and not do anything too crazy and stay calm at the baseline.”
Russian Khachanov cruised past Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-2, while 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut beat Feliciano Lopez in straight sets.