Competing for the first time since that shoulder injury at the US Open, world no. 1 Novak Djokovic made an impressive debut at the ATP 500 event in Tokyo, beating a qualifier Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 29 minutes.
Trailing 4-3, Novak grabbed nine of the last 11 games to march towards the finish line, having the upper hand in the more extended exchanges and taking 44% of the return points to score three breaks from 12 opportunities, enough to propel him over the top.
Djokovic had 30 winners and 12 unforced errors, more than respectable numbers if we know he is still not at his best, dropping only 12 points on serve and never facing a break point. Popyrin managed to stay in touch with a great rival in the first half an hour, serving well and going for risky shots to avoid longer rallies and to give Novak the rhythm in the exchanges.
That all changed in the second part of the clash, though, and Djokovic was just too good in every element to sail towards the finish line and earn the 42nd victory of the season. Alexei saved a break chance in the seventh game after a well-constructed attack but Novak was already on his trail now, pushing hard on the return two games later and converting the fifth opportunity thanks to a forehand error from the youngster to move 5-4 in front.
Serving for the set, the Serb secured the opener with four winners, gaining boost and hoping for more of the same in set number two. There, Popyrin survived a break point in the first game to stay in contention a little bit longer before Djokovic found the way to steal his serve at 2-2, moving in front and delivering another break on the fourth opportunity when the Aussie netted a backhand in game seven.
Serving for the victory, Djokovic sealed the deal with a forehand winner, taking the set 6-2 and facing Go Soeda in the second round on Wednesday.