Djokovic battles through but Tsonga and Venus Williams crash out in Cincinnati
Top-seeded Serb made to sweat by Gilles Simon
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic came back to beat Gilles Simon 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in his opening match at the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.
The Cincinnati tournament is the only Masters series event Djokovic has never won, finishing as the runner-up four times. If he wins this week, he’ll become the first with titles at all nine ATP Masters events.
First, he had to get past Simon. He had trouble putting away the Frenchman, whom he has now beaten eight straight times. The opening game of the third set went 20 points and 15 minutes, with Simon surviving six break points.
Djokovic finally broke through for a 4-3 lead and served out the 2-hour, 9-minute match. The last set alone took 59 minutes. Djokovic had 36 unforced errors in the breezy evening conditions.
“Let’s be honest: I don’t enjoy playing bad,” Djokovic said. “I don’t enjoy missing a lot of balls from the baseline. That was frustrating for me.
“I’m not playing at a level that I need to be, and it’s obvious. I keep pushing myself.”
The tournament lost its defending women’s champion on Tuesday when Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of an injured right knee. Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal withdrew before the tournament because of an injured wrist.
While Djokovic managed to advance despite his struggles, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Venus Williams made quick exits after leaving their winning touch in Canada.
Two days after he won his second Masters title by beating Roger Federer in Toronto, Tsonga lost to Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-4.
“I don’t have the energy to compete,” Tsonga said after the 68-minute match. “I just gave everything last week. Before the match, I believed I was able to play at a good level. But on court, I realized that was going to be impossible. And it was.”
Venus Williams beat sister Serena while reaching the finals in Montreal on Sunday, finishing runner-up. She lost to Lucie Safarova 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 in the first round here Tuesday.
“I wish I could have felt today like I did in Montreal, just to make it more competitive,” Williams said.
Fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova broke Madison Keys to go up 3-0 in the final set and held on for a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win that was gratifying. She was coming off a loss in the third round at Montreal.
“I didn’t have a great week last week,” she said. “No matter who is across the net, it’s never easy going out in the first round because you want to change that result around. You want to change your attitude and your performance and obviously the result.”