Novak Djokovic was made to sweat by Nicolas Almagro in the first match of his Madrid Open defense but eventually overcame the Spaniard 6-1 4-6, 7-5 on Wednesday to reach the third round.
Almagro, ranked 76, broke Djokovic in the opening game but the world number two came back with a vengeance to win six consecutive games, finishing the last with a tidy drop shot.
The Spaniard, who has never gone beyond the quarter-finals in a grand slam, grew in confidence in the second set, however, with the backing of the home support on the Manolo Santana court and saved two break points before forcing a decider.
An upset looked on the cards when Almagro broke Djokovic at the first attempt in the third set and marched into a 3-0 lead but the Serb drew on his experience to battle back, breaking the 31-year-old twice before serving out for the match.
The Serbian, who recently split from his long-term coach Marian Vajda, is on a quest to regain his best form again ahead of the French Open.
Later on Wednesday crowd favorite and four-time winner Rafael Nadal enters the tournament to face Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
In the third round of the women’s singles Eugenie Bouchard plays Angelique Kerber of Germany, having seen off Maria Sharapova on Monday in a thriller.
World number two and second seed Novak Djokovic was training on Saturday for his first appearance next week in the Madrid Open tournament.
It was Djokovic’s first appearance in front of his fans since announcing an immediate end to his association his coach Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic.
Djokovic is trying to regain his form having been toppled from the number one position by Andy Murray, crashed out of Indian Wells and the Australian Open at an early stage, and failed to reach the semi-finals at Acapulco and Monte Carlo recently.
World number two Novak Djokovic has parted company with his coaching team in a bid to halt a run of poor results which culminated in a quarter-final exit at the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
A winner of 12 Grand Slam titles, the Serb has suffered a noticeable dip in form since winning his maiden French Open last June, relinquishing top spot in the ATP rankings to Briton Andy Murray five months later.
He made a shock second-round exit at the Australian Open to Uzbek Denis Istomin, followed by successive defeats to Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco and Indian Wells, before being beaten by Belgian David Goffin in Monte Carlo.
On Friday, the 29-year-old announced that he would part ways with his coach Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic.
“I am forever grateful to Marian, GG and Miljan for a decade of friendship, professionalism and commitment to my career goals,” he said in a statement. “It was not an easy decision, but we all felt that we need a change.
“I want to continue raising the level of my game and stamina and this is a continuous process… I am a hunter and my biggest goal is to find the winning spark on the court again.”
Djokovic’s overhaul by Murray at the top of the rankings ended a run of more than two years as number one for the Serb, who has spent a total of 223 weeks at the summit during his career.
Djokovic added that he would take his time before naming a new head coach.
Fans’ favourite Roger Federer helped himself to a record fifth title when he fought past Britain’s Andy Murray in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open at a packed Dubai Tennis Stadium on Saturday night.
Watched by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirate (UAE) and Ruler of Dubai, and Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman, Dubai Sports Council, for a major part of the first set, the Swiss went on to record a 7-5, 6-4 victory.
The capacity crowd rose to the occasion to welcome Federer as champion for a record fifth time in Dubai following his earlier successes in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. “I think I played well in the big points tonight and that is what made the difference,” Federer said.
He received the winner’s trophy from Shaikh Hasher Maktoum, Dubai Director of Information and President of Tennis Emirates; Shaikh Ahmad Al Sabah, Chairman, Kuwait Tennis Association; Abdul Rahman Falaknaz, Vice-President, Tennis Emirates; Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman, Dubai Duty Free, and other officials.
Making his fourth appearance here, Murray had never previously got past the quarter-finals. But during the course of the week he showed all signs of maintaining his career edge against the former world No 1.
Playing both Djokovic — whom he beat in the semi-finals — and Federer at the same tournament for the first time ever, Murray was broken for the only time in the opening set in the 11th game. That put Federer 6-5 up and then served out 7-5 in 52 minutes.
In the second set, Federer assumed early control with a break in the third to go 2-1, up but squandered the advantage as Murray bounced right back with a break — the first against Federer’s serve in 65 service games — and then hold for a 3-2 lead.
Federer had not previously been broken since the semi-finals in Rotterdam against Nikolay Davydenko last month.
However, Federer was far from finished as he broke Murray a second time when the Scotsman netted a backhand return in the ninth game to enable the second-seeded Swiss to serve out for set and match in an hour and 36 minutes.
Federer received the winner’s cheque of $409,170 (Dh1.5 million).