World no. 1 and 2018 Cincinnati champion Novak Djokovic made a winning comeback, beating Ricardas Berankis 7-6, 6-4 in an hour and 41 minutes. Competing for the first time since winning the title in Dubai in February, Novak struggled with a neck injury (he had to withdraw from the doubles match) and received a medical timeout, coming from a break down in both sets to seal the deal in straight sets and save energy for the next round.
It was the 356th Masters 1000 victory for the 17-time Major champion, staying undefeated in 2020 and securing the 19th victory from as many encounters in this crippled season. Novak had 17 winners (only one from his backhand) and 17 unforced errors, with Berankis hitting 22 winners and more than 30 errors to keep the points on his racquet.
Djokovic had a small advantage in the shortest, mid-range and most extended exchanges, doing enough to cross the finish line but having to raise his level if he wants to chase the title. Novak held with a forehand winner in the first game, creating a break chance in the next one that Ricardas saved with a beautiful backhand down the line winner to avoid an early setback.
The Serb held at love with a forehand winner in game three before Berankis earned two break chances at 2-2 after a forehand crosscourt winner. Djokovic saved both with service winners to bring the game home, unable to do much on the return as Berankis held at love to level the score at 3-3.
The Lithuanian grabbed a break in the seventh game, wasting a game point that could have pushed him 5-3 up and allowing Novak to break back following a loose forehand. Both players served well in the remaining four games to set up a tie break, with Djokovic earning two mini-breaks to open a 3-0 lead.
Struggling with a neck injury, Novak Djokovic defeated Ricardas Berankis.
The Serb closed the set with a service winner at 6-2, receiving a medical timeout ahead of set number two. Berankis opened it with a break in game two, staying in front only for a couple of minutes as Novak broke back at love with a forehand winner.
The Lithuanian fended off a break chance in the fifth game to stay on the positive side of the scoreboard, securing another break at love in game six when Djokovic netted a backhand. Novak had to react quickly, pulling the break back to reduce the deficit and holding at 15 to level the score at 4-4.
With the momentum on his side, Djokovic broke at 15 in game nine and sealed the deal with a hold at 15 at 5-4, taking 16 of the last 21 points to cross the finish line.