Marcos Baghdatis continued his impressive start to the ATP Finals, beating Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match at the season-ending showpiece on Sunday.
The Croation will be one of the most-watched players on show court 2 after easing through qualifying without dropping a set in his first three rounds.
His new status as favourite to win this season’s biggest prize had not fazed the 33-year-old, who was looking to pile the pressure on the man he once defeated in the final of the Australian Open.
Baghdatis, who needed five sets to beat Djokovic, may have been unfortunate to be sent on to Court 2 rather than the centre after officials preferred a larger ground cover around the court.
But it was the pitch that seemed to disadvantage him as he wasted two set points on the Djokovic serve before dropping his own serve for a fourth time to trail 3-2.
The 2009 Australian Open champion, who recently returned from six months out because of an elbow injury, regained control by winning five straight games and two sets in a row.
He won when Baghdatis broke twice to close out the match with a forehand winner.
“I think I returned better today than when I played Novak in Melbourne,” Baghdatis said. “I had a feeling I hit the ball very well today.”
The two-time Wimbledon champion has a bye into the second round on Monday, meaning Djokovic will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second match at about 9 a.m. Washington time.
Djokovic may have been able to win with ease if it wasn’t for his match points against Baghdatis, who became the oldest Masters 1000 quarterfinalist in the past 20 years and needed to beat Rafael Nadal in the final round to get into the tournament in London.
“I didn’t know how to feel out there,” Djokovic said. “It was just a game of mind, to stay in it and fight to the end.”
Tsonga also had a relatively comfortable match, breezing past Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 6-4.