Former Australian Open champion is making a bid to move up the rankings in Dubai.
Novak Djokovic's bid to close up on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the absence of both of the top two this week in Dubai began with symptoms of the stresses of the modern game.
The top-seeded former Australian Open champion was self-admittedly not impressed with his own performance as he struggled with Flavio Cipolla, an Italian qualifier who has yet to break the top 100.
"I think I didn't play as the crowd hoped," said Djokovic after a 6-3, 6-2 win which took an hour and 24 minutes and involved many long rallies and grittily contested deuce games.
However it was my first match, so I hope they will excuse me - next time I will hopefully be better," the top-seeded Serbian added.
Djokovic broke early but could not get away from a tenacious opponent, who covered the court superbly and mixed up slices with topspins cunningly on the backhand and even sometimes did it on the forehand side too.
Djokovic could not add to his break and took a long time trying to close out the set. He also needed a monster game before he could consolidate his early break in the second set, and played an indifferent game to break serve at 4-2.
"He was changing a lot of pace," said Djokovic, "and I am not used to playing such a player. I didn't play well, but I won."
Djokovic could hardly demean his opponent's spirited and clever efforts by pointing out that he was tired from having come straight from the semi-finals in Marseille, with little more than a day in which to get used to a different time zone and very different conditions.
However, this was undoubtedly the case, and he will look to pick up some better form Wednesday when he will play Jan Hernych, the world number 66 from the Czech Republic.
Djokovic may be at risk of losing the world number three spot quite soon as has winner's points to defend in Indian Wells whereas Andy Murray, the world number four, has few, either here, or in Indian Wells, or Miami.
However, Murray has a difficult half here, with a second round against one Frenchman, Arnaud Clement, who has won both their previous meetings, and a possible quarter-final against a second, Richard Gasquet, who may be bursting to avenge his defeat from two sets up at Wimbledon eight months ago, the last time they met.
Clement came back well to overcome Rainer Schuttler, the veteran German who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals, by 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Gasquet, looking fluent and confident, won 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 against Marat Safin, the eighth-seeded former world number one who entered the tournament as a wild card and left it talking about his planned retirement at the end of the year.
"Although I have been unlucky with injuries and should have done better than I did, every time I played well I got injured so, what can I do? That's life," he said, with a slightly comic pathos.
However he had reasons for hoping to perform well in this, his last year, he said.
"It's much easier to do something great when you are less stressed and you have less expectations of yourself," he explained.
Asked if he would play his last tournament in Moscow, he suggested otherwise. "We'll have to make the last tournament in Paris, where I played the best tennis and where I won the Davis Cup" for Russia.
Another Frenchman to reach the second round was Gilles Simon who is trying to build a challenge the world's top four, and survived a tough early trial with the new mental qualities which have made him such a different player in the past year.
The world number seven from France was in danger of a spectacular tumble when he stood at four-all 30-all in the final set against Mohammed Ghareeb, the Kuwaiti wild card player who is ranked outside the top 400 in the world.
It was in the moments which followed that Simon summoned the mental strength and stable judgement to make the right selections and maintain adequate control to take him to a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win. (AFP)