A month after being deported from Australia for the Australian Open, Djokovic returned to the tennis court in Dubai to cheers for a tournament he had won five times before.
And it took him just an hour and 14 minutes to complete the win over 19-year-old Musetti and set up a second-round meeting with either Karen Khachanov or Alex de Minaur, who will play Tuesday.
“I couldn’t ask for a better reception. It’s been a while since I played the last game – I couldn’t have picked a better place to start the season,” Djokovic said later in his on-court interview.
“It was the best experience possible tonight and thank you so much for your support and welcoming me to the track the way you did.”
Djokovic became embroiled in controversy when he arrived in Australia in January without a valid Covid-19 vaccination waiver.
He was later evicted from the country, missing the chance to defend his Australian Open title and win a record-breaking 21st grand slam title.
Before Monday’s game in Dubai, Djokovic told reporters that “there were a lot of emotions after I came back from Australia, so I needed some time to think and just rest mentally.”
The Serb shot forward against Italian Musetti and broke his opponent in the fourth game of the first set to take a 3-1 lead.
He then had to save three breakpoints from 0-40 in the next game before closing the first set.
Djokovic broke Musetti again at the start of the second set to get a firm grip on the match, although he also had to save more breakpoints over the course of the set – a total of seven over the course of the match.
A third break of Musetti’s service at 5-3 sealed the win.
“All in all, it’s an outright win, so of course I have to be happy with my tennis, especially after not playing for two and a half, almost three months,” said Djokovic.
“There were times when I played great, there were times when I made some unusual casual mistakes in a row. But it’s normal to expect that for a while in the first game.”
Djokovic has spent a record 361 weeks as the world’s No. 1 but could lose his place at the top of the rankings if Daniil Medvedev wins the Mexican Open at Acapulco this week — even with a win in Dubai.
The 34-year-old said before Monday’s game that he would be “the first to congratulate” Medvedev if the Russian takes his place as the world’s number one.