SHANGHAI (AFP) – Imperious Novak Djokovic declared that he was “a completely different player” from the first half of this year after he beat France s Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 7-5 to roll into the Shanghai Masters third round on Tuesday.
The rejuvenated Serbian second seed has now won all 12 matches against Chardy and this victory was never in doubt.
The 31-year-old Djokovic had to contend with a more stubborn Chardy in the second set, before the world number three s superior shot-making won through in 83 minutes.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion missed six months of competition in 2017 and had elbow surgery in February.
But he has burst back to form and fitness since the summer, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and the Masters 1000 Cincinnati in a terrific run, and says he is back close to his best.
Djokovic, who is eyeing Rafael Nadal s number one ranking, said: “I haven t won too many matches the beginning of the year.
“After the surgery I was not managing to play my best, and that has changed, so obviously the more you win, the more comfortable and more confident you feel on the court.”
The Serb will play either Italy s Marco Cecchinato or South Korea s Chung Hyeon next — he lost to both during his darker days in the first half of the year.
“I think I m a completely different player than I was in first five, six months of the year,” he said.
“Hopefully the outcome can be different as well.”
In the absence of the injured Nadal, holder Roger Federer is the top seed in Shanghai and the Swiss great starts his campaign on Wednesday against Russia s Daniil Medvedev.
Nikoloz Basilashvili showed that his China Open triumph at the weekend was no fluke as he brushed aside the promising Denis Shapovalov.
The Georgian, up to a career-high 23 in the world following his victory over Juan Martin del Potro in Beijing on Sunday, beat the teenage Canadian 6-2, 6-2 in just 57 minutes.
The 26-year-old Basilashvili will now have another upset in his sights when he plays fourth seed Alexander Zverev at the Masters 1000 event on Wednesday.
Basilashvili s victory over an under-the-weather Del Potro at the weekend was just his second ATP title, the first coming in Hamburg in July.
Del Potro, the Shanghai third seed who was suffering with a cold and flu in Beijing, meets France s Richard Gasquet.
A press conference for the Argentine on Tuesday was cancelled at the last moment, however, which suggests that he could still be unwell.
Austria s Dominic Thiem became the biggest casualty so far when the sixth seed was stunned by Matthew Ebden in a thrilling three-set contest.
The Australian finally emerged 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/4) for the biggest scalp of his career.