DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Top-seeded Novak Djokovic struggled with his serve before beating Italian qualifier Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old Serb broke Cipolla in the second game of the first set, but the Italian broke back in the fifth. Djokovic found his game after that, however, and was rarely troubled.
"I'm happy that I'm through in straight sets, but certainly it wasn't the performance I was looking for," Djokovic said. "I didn't expect him to play so many short balls, and with a change of pace, and that's probably what didn't give me a lot of rhythm. But it's my first match here, and I didn't have a lot of practice and arrived just two days ago from Europe."
Djokovic, who retired from the Australian Open quarterfinals complaining of heat, reached the Open 13 semifinals in Marseille, France, last week.
"I think it is difficult to adjust when you play outdoors after indoors, because outdoors, you have elements that affect most wind, heat, sun, things like that. Indoors, you can get more still conditions and get into rhythm much faster than outdoors," Djokovic said. "But as I said, you always need a couple of days, which I didn't have. That's probably the reason why I had a little weaker performance today."
Third-seeded Gilles Simon of France also struggled before advancing, defeating Kuwaiti wild card Mohammed Ghareeb 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Eighth-seeded Marat Safin of Russia lost to Richard Gasquet of France 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
Ghareeb is ranked 469th by the ATP, and his good play left the eighth-ranked Simon questioning his own abilities.
"I have just been more consistent lately, but even this year, at the moment, there is not one match when I was feeling very good on the court. Even here, I win the first match and don't know if I can win more matches," Simon said. "I think it is mental. When you are playing a match like this, it's really not easy. The guy has a strange ranking, 400 or so, with his game, it's just unbelievable.
"But you know that you are playing against the wild card, and you are losing, so you just have to fight. But it's hard to say, Come on, I am in the top 10 and I play a guy 400 and I don't know, and I have to give everything to win. ... I just have to accept that there is no easy match. Never, never. And every match can be really hard to win, even if you don't expect that," he said.
Safin, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former top-ranked player, played well but couldn't get by Gasquet.
"I struggled in the beginning with the serve, especially, and returns from the baseline, but I started to get used to it and I started to get better and better," Safin said. "But unfortunately, it's a lack of confidence and I didn't play for a long time after Australia. I played in Marseille, and it's my second match."
Israeli player Andy Ram, who was given a special permit to play after Shahar Peer was denied entry into the United Arab Emirates for last week's women's tournament, plays his first doubles match Wednesday. Ram and partner Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe will face Safin and David Ferrer.