Novak Djokovic needed a deciding tie-break to see off young Czech Tomas Machac at the ATP Tour event in Dubai in his first match since the Australian Open.
The Serbian took three weeks off after defying a hamstring problem to win a record-equalling 22nd grand slam title in Melbourne and looked understandably a little rusty in a 6-3 3-6 7-6 (1) win against 130th-ranked Machac.
Djokovic’s forehand was decidedly wayward in the second set but he looked to have turned things around in the third, with Machac troubled by pain in his wrist.
The 22-year-old produced some spectacular tennis to fight back from a break down and level at 4-4 and forced a final-set tie-break only for Djokovic to step up his level when he needed it most.
Djokovic, who overtook Steffi Graf’s all-time record this week with his 378th week at world number one, maintained his unbeaten record this season with a 13th victory.
In an on-court interview broadcast by Amazon Prime Video, Djokovic said: “Tomas definitely didn’t play like 130 in the world today. He was giving me all kinds of trouble, but I guess when it mattered I found another gear.
“Physically you can always be better, I demand the highest of standards. I did struggle with injury for several weeks and it took me a little bit of time to really get used to holding a racket. I haven’t played much tennis, so I’m hoping as the tournament progresses I can raise the level.”
Britain’s Dan Evans lasted only four games against Borna Coric before pulling out of his first-round match through injury.
Evans, who had strapping above his right ankle, called for the trainer at 2-2 and hit only one more serve before shaking his head and calling it a day.
The 32-year-old reached the third round of the Australian Open but has won only one of his seven singles matches on the ATP Tour in 2023.
Elsewhere, Daniil Medvedev extended his winning run to 10 matches with a 6-4 6-2 victory over lucky loser Matteo Arnaldi as he chases a third straight title.
Fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime battled to a 7-6 (4) 3-6 6-3 win against American Maxime Cressy but sixth seed Karen Khachanov fell 7-5 6-2 to Botic Van De Zandschulp.