Novak Djokovic showed quality and resilience as he continued his comeback by beating Russia’s Karen Khachanov to reach the Dubai quarter-finals.
The Serb top seed, playing in his first tournament of 2022 after not being allowed to compete in the Australian Open, won 6-3 7-6 (7-2).
Djokovic played at a high level in the first set and dug deep in the second.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion next plays Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely, who beat Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
World number one Djokovic returned to the match court on Monday, when he beat Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets, following his tumultuous start to the year.
The unvaccinated player was unable to defend his Australian Open title after being deported from Melbourne when his visa was cancelled in a row over his vaccination status.
“I’ve missed playing competitively, obviously. Tennis is my life and all what I have known to do,” Djokovic said after beating Khachanov.
“Professional tennis is my love. I enjoy travelling, playing and hopefully bringing some positive emotions and memories for the people who come to watch.”
Even if he goes on to win the Dubai title, Djokovic could still lose the world number one ranking next week.
Djokovic has been in the top spot for the past 86 weeks but will be overtaken by Daniil Medvedev if the Russian wins the Mexican Open this week.
Against 26th-ranked Khachanov, Djokovic started superbly as he hit cleanly and confidently to move a set and a break up.
He looked to be heading towards a one-sided success before Khachanov raised his level.
Facing his first break points of the match in the fourth game of the second set, Djokovic saved all three, but wavered on serve again as his opponent broke back for 4-4.
Djokovic was unable to take two break points in the next game as both players held serve to take the set into a tie-break.
A wonderful point – which saw Khachanov scampering all over the court before eventually hitting into the net and dejectedly falling to the surface – allowed Djokovic to move 4-2 ahead and wrap up victory with a blistering winner.