Djokovic starting to find higher gear
Former World No.1 Novak Djokovic showed signs of a return to form with an impressive 7-5 6-4 victory over Japan's Kei Nishikori in the opening round of the Madrid Open.
Following early exits in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Miami and Indian Wells, the 30-year-old Djokovic struck his shots with precision and recorded 26 winners to improve his head-to-head advantage to 12-2 against World No.20 Nishikori.
Djokovic was broken to love at 2-2 but he recovered well by pouncing on his opponent's second serve to clinch the opening set in just over an hour.
The two-time winner in Madrid went on to claim a decisive break in the 10th game of the second set to wrap up the win.
It was Djokovic's first victory over a top-20 opponent since the Serb overcame Gael Monfils at Eastbourne in June last year.
Earlier in the day, Canada's Milos Raonic booked a second-round meeting with third seed Grigor Dimitrov, defeating Argentina's Nicolas Kicker 6-3 6-2.
Meanwhile, former World No.1 Maria Sharapova continues to banish her recent series of disappointing losses on the tour with a 7-5 6-1 win over Irina-Camelia Begu in the women's event.
Prior to this week, the Russian hadn't won a match on the tour since the Australian Open, but her jinx ended over the weekend with a straight sets win over Mihaela Buzrnescu.
Keeping the momentum going yesterday, Sharapova illustrated glimmers of her fighting spirit with a total of 21 winners to 24 unforced errors against World No.38 Begu. The Russian also benefited heavily from her rival's unforced error count of 19.
"It was a lot of hard work. Being down a break to start off both of those sets didn't make things easy for me," said Sharapova. "Although I didn't play my best in the first set, I pulled through. I played some tough points."