Novak Djokovic notched an encouraging win in his comeback from a right elbow injury when he beat Kei Nishikori 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Monday. Djokovic broke serve late in each set to get past the 20th-ranked Nishikori after nearly two hours in the Magic Box.
Djokovic hasn't made it to the quarterfinals in his previous five tournaments this year, admitting he returned to tennis too quickly. In his last event, he lost in the third round in Monte Carlo, where Nishikori reached the final.
Djokovic was aggressive from the start, hitting 26 winners against Nishikori, who has made at least the Madrid quarterfinals for the last five years. He was a finalist in 2014, losing to Rafael Nadal.
"The draw was such that we had to face in the first round, which is a bit strange," Djokovic said. "But it was a good opening match."
Maria Sharapova, who won in Madrid in 2014, made it to the last 16 by defeating Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5, 6-1 in only her second match since the Australian Open. She has been dealing with a left forearm injury.
"It was a lot of hard work," Sharapova said of her match. "Being down a break to start off both of those sets didn't make things easy for me. That will certainly help me moving forward."
Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki edged past Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Wozniacki reached the 2009 final on debut and hasn't been close since.
"I was lucky to get away with it in that third set," the second-seeded Wozniacki said.
Milos Raonic defeated Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-2 to set up a second-round encounter with third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, while Richard Gasquet beat Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-2 to advance to play qualifier Dusan Lajovic, who got past Karen Khachanov 6-3, 6-2.
In a first-round match between Frenchmen, Benoit Paire hit 39 winners to defeat 18th-ranked Lucas Pouille 6-2, 6-3, advancing to face 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who got past Tennys Sandgren of the U.S. 6-1, 6-4.
Halep Eases Past Makarova
Two-time defending champion Simona Halep brushed aside Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-0 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Sunday. Top-seeded Halep recorded her 13th consecutive victory on Madrid's clay courts.
"I was moving great. I felt the game, I like to play on this court," Halep said. "Always when I come back here, I feel a little bit more relaxed, so maybe that's why I can touch my best level every time I play."
Second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki also eased through, dispensing with Daria Gavrilova 6-3, 6-1. The Australian Open champion is playing a week after she withdrew from the Istanbul Cup due to an abdominal injury.
Third-seeded and home favorite Garbine Muguruza also advanced with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Shuai Peng, hitting five aces and breaking Peng's serve four times.
Maria Sharapova beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-4, 6-1 for her first clay-court victory of the season. A left arm injury had forced Sharapova to withdraw from both the Dubai Championship and Miami Open.
Victoria Azarenka prevailed over Aleksandra Krunic 6-3, 6-3 in her first clay-court match since the 2016 French Open and the birth of her son.
Azarenka, who had reduced her playing schedule due to a custody dispute with her son's father, said that she planned to play at Rome, the French Open, Mallorca and Wimbledon.
"I'm trying to get a little bit more stability right now," the Belarusian said. "As much as I can play, I will.
"I was so happy to be on that plane, you have no idea. You have no idea how happy I was to just have a fresh European air, European food, everything."
Petra Kvitova, who won in Madrid in 2011 and 2015, brushed aside Leisa Tsurenko 6-1, 6-2, and Sloane Stephens beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-3, 6-2.
Other winners included Samantha Stosur, Sorana Cirstea and Carla Suarez Navarro.
(With AP Inputs)