(Monte-Carlo) World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was slow to find his bearings as he started his season on clay, but he eventually managed to defeat Russian Ivan Gakhov 7-6 (5), 6-2 at the Monte-Carlo Tennis Masters on Tuesday.

The holder of two career titles in the Monaco principality had not played a match since losing to Russian Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships five weeks ago – a loss that ended the defending Australian Open champion’s 20-game winning streak.

The 35-year-old Serb, who was ousted in the first round last year in Monte Carlo, lacked consistency in the first set, and it took time to regain his composure on the playing surface which has reputation for being rather slow. He played more aggressively in the second set and stole Gakhov’s serve to take a 3-2 lead before racing straight to victory.

“I didn’t play to my full potential, especially in the first set,” admitted Djokovic, who saved three of the four break points offered to the Russian. But at the end of the day, I matter how I handled the important moments. »

The “Djoker” will face in the next round the winner of the match between the Italians Lorenzo Musetti and Luca Nardi.

For his part, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who covets a third consecutive title in Monegasque territory, took advantage of the abandonment of Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi when he was lying 4-1 to reach the third round. The second seed will face the winner of the match between Chilean Nicolas Jarry and Australian Alexei Popyrin in the next round.

Earlier on Tuesday, Alexander Zverev began his season on clay with a hard time beating Alexander Bublik 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

The 13th-seeded German hit clay for the first time since injuring his right ankle during his French Open semi-final match against the Spaniard last year Rafael Nadal.

Zverev said it took him time to “heal the psychological wounds” associated with the incident and relearn how to slide on the playing surface.

Despite this, Zverev only committed nine unforced errors and landed 21 game winners on the Rainier III court, setting the stage for a second-round duel against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.

Grigor Dimitrov, who reached the semi-finals of this tournament on two occasions, also continued his journey after beating American Ben Shelton 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. The 20-year-old tennis player was playing his first career match in Monte Carlo and he did not disappoint, challenging Dimitrov a few times during the duel which continued for more than two hours.

Dimitrov will face the Czech Jiri Lehecka in the next round.

Rafael Nadal, the second world player Carlos Alcaraz and the Quebecer Félix Auger-Aliassime (no. 7) have all skipped this tournament.