After flaming out of Toronto last week to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in one of his worst career losses, Novak Djokovic began his quest for a first Cincinnati title with a shaky 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 second round win over Gilles Simon.
The World No. 1 who is trying to become the first player to win all nine Masters titles – only missing Cincinnati – was down a break in the first, blew a break lead in the second before finally putting away the Frenchman in a rain-affected third.
“I think I did well for the most of the match,” Djokovic said. “End of the second, start of the third wasn’t that great, but I try to take positives from every match. I know I’m not playing at the level yet where I want to be and it’s obvious, but I keep on pushing myself.
“Every day is a new challenge to try to look out for a better game tomorrow and after tomorrow, and hopefully it’s going to come.”
Earlier, red-hot Toronto champion Tsonga fizzled against Mikhail Youzhny. Tsonga, who had beaten four straight Top 10 guys last week, put up little opposition in a 6-1, 6-4 lackluster loss to Youzhny.
“It’s never easy,” said Tsonga. “You have to get used to the conditions really quick… I just gave everything on court, but I didn’t have enough today to compete at the good level.”
Among other winners were Marin Cilic, Robby Ginepri, Stan Wawrinka, Ernests Gulbis and Vasek Pospisil who saved three matchpoints to beat Radek Stepanek.
In the women’s event, Montreal finalist Venus Williams ran out of gas against Lucie Safarova falling 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4.
“It was definitely a quick turnaround,” Venus said. “But she just played so well. No matter what shot I hit, she hit a winner, or if I hit it really deep, she somehow managed to control it down the line. I think she got a little tight at 5-1, so I had some chances to come back, but that’s a deep hole. Sometimes it’s just tough to play opponents who are hitting everything off every shot. She managed to do that today.”
Maria Sharapova also went three sets but she came out ahead edging young American Madison Keys 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
“Against Madison, someone who serves really well, it’s always one or two moments that are really crucial in the match,” Sharapova said. “In the first set I returned quite well and broke her a few times. She got a bit more consistent on her groundstrokes in the second set and there were some moments at the beginning of that second set where I felt that I could have taken the lead and broken her. I didn’t do that, and she stepped it up and was able to break me a couple more times.
“But ultimately I was happy with the beginning of the third set. That was really crucial.”
Caroline Wozniacki, Sara Errani, Sloane Stephens and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among the other winners.
Former No. 1 and defending champion Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the event with a right knee injury.
“Unfortunately I won’t be playing in Cincinnati this year. But I had to make the best decision for me. I will definitely be back next year,” she wrote on twitter.
Azarenka beat Serena in a third set tiebreaker in one of the best title matches of 2013.
In the late match Simona Halep made a strong hardcourt debut ousting former Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-2.
On tap Wednesday are 5-time champion Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Serena William, Eugenie Bouchard and Gael Monfils who will be a curious nighttime attraction against Roberto Bautista-Agut.
WEDNESDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
CENTER COURT start 11:00 am
ATP –  A Murray (GBR) vs J Sousa (POR)
Not Before 1:00 pm
WTA –  S Williams (USA) vs S Stosur (AUS)
ATP – V Pospisil (CAN) vs  R Federer (SUI)
Not Before 7:00 pm
WTA –  E Bouchard (CAN) vs S Kuznetsova (RUS)
Not Before 8:30 pm
ATP –  R Bautista Agut (ESP) vs G Monfils (FRA)
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