The world No.1 lost the first two points but then won many more than he lost as he emerged victorious in his first match of 2022, following his deportation from Australia.
Watch the rapturous scenes in the video above
Djokovic had not played since the Davis Cup finals in early December 2021.
On the only previous occasion the pair met, at Roland Garros last year, Musetti took a two-set lead with successive tie-break successes.
Djokovic then won 16 of the next 17 games before an exhausted Musetti retired at 0-4 in the final set.
The 19-year-old wildcard went for his shots again in Dubai, showing no fear as he went toe-to-toe with the Serbian champion, but Djokovic cruised to a 6-3 6-3 win in 73 minutes.
He could face Australia’s Alex de Minaur, who meets Karen Khachanov on Tuesday night, in the second round.
Djokovic said he was a little rusty at times, but ‘that is to be expected’, and he ‘very much enjoyed’ being in front of a crowd again.
He added: “I couldn’t ask for a better reception. I couldn’t pick a better place to kick-start the season. All in all it was a very pleasant experience for me.”
The Serb, wearing a green-and-white combo, had been cheered onto court and had plenty of support under the lights with some spectators waving flags bearing his likeness and the slogan ‘Stand with Novak’.
The five-time former winner had no problems getting into the emirate despite being the only player in the men’s top 100 unvaccinated against COVID-19.
The jab is not needed for visitors to Dubai but his return to the tour appears set to be short-lived.
A five-time champion at Indian Wells in California and a six-time winner at Miami, Djokovic admits he is unlikely to appear at the Masters 1000 tournaments that dominate the ATP’s March calendar.
“As of today, no. I can’t go, can’t enter United States,” he said after his win over Musetti.
“As of today I’m not able to play. But let’s see what happens. I mean, maybe things change in the next few weeks.”
Djokovic was deported from Australia on January 16 on ‘health and good order grounds’ after a protracted legal battle with Scott Morrison’s federal government.
The tennis star has since spoken with multiple PR professionals after witnessing his reputation crumble in Australia.
“In terms of image, I really don’t know. Of course, there were not many positive articles about this whole situation in the last month or so,” he said.
“I think things are maybe shifting a little bit. I’m hoping. But I understand there’s still a lot of speculations and people questioning.”
Djokovic said at the weekend he felt ‘as well-prepared as I possibly can be’ and so it proved as he took the first set in 36 minutes.
The second was marginally more competitive with Musetti forcing several break-points. But Djokovic always stepped it up to hold.
Musetti, ranked 58 in the world, is regarded as an emerging talent, part of an Italian wave making a growing impact on tour.
He had played well, but Djokovic played like he had barely been away.
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