Novak Djokovic fought his way into the third round of the Italian Open on Friday, beating Tomas Etcheverry 7-5 (7/6), 6-2 in a surprisingly close encounter.
Djokovic, a six-time winner in Rome, was put to work by the Argentine and won in an hour and 51 minutes to set up a third round match against Grigor Dimitrov, who defeated Stan Wawrinka earlier in the day.
Djokovic has not been knocked out of an ATP tour event in the first attempt since last year’s Monte Carlo Masters, only his second tournament last season following his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
He still had a right elbow injury and had to fight his way past Etcheverry, winning the first set via tie-break before eventually advancing to the next round.
“I have said before that this surface needs more time for me than maybe for other players to get myself to a good level, move well and hit the ball well. Rome has always been a tournament that I need for Roland Garros,” Djokovic told Sky Sport in Italian.
“This is my favorite clay court tournament, there is an incredible atmosphere on the center court and the consistency I’ve had over the years gives me a lot of confidence.”
Djokovic, 35, has made 12 finals in Roma and said on Thursday he felt good ahead of the tournament despite missing last week’s Madrid Masters.
Wearing an elbow brace, he got off to a slow start, dropping his serve in the first game and struggling to deal with the Argentine’s powerful shots.
The first set revolved around a messy game six, in which Djokovic broke to even the scores after a battle for deuce.
From there, the set went with service until Djokovic won the final four points in the tie-break to take the lead.
Djokovic then leveled up and broke serve in the first and seventh games of the second set to give the match a more straightforward look than Etcheverry’s performance deserved.
– Perfect Swiatek –
Iga Swiatek started her bid to win a third consecutive Italian Open title in perfect fashion, without dropping a game in her straight-sets thrashing of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
World number one Swiatek destroyed Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-0 in just over an hour to enter the third round.
Lost as a finalist in Madrid last weekend, Swiatek has looked in great shape in the tournament she won last year before advancing to the French Open, even as she shrugs off a rib injury she sustained in Indian Wells.
“I may still feel some discomfort, but it’s really, really low. Even when I pulled out of Miami, the pain was low. It was just the risk of it getting worse that held me back,” Swiatek told reporters.
Swiatek will meet Lesia Tsurenko in the last 32 after extending her winning streak in the Italian capital to 12 matches.
Last year’s losing finalist, seed Ons Jabeur, went down 6-1, 6-4 against Paula Badosa.
Jabeur joins world number two Aryna Sabalenka, third seed Jessica Pegula and 2019 winner Karolina Pliskova, who is eliminated in the second round.
The 28-year-old has struggled with calf problems in recent weeks, an injury that saw her out of the semi-finals in Stuttgart and unable to defend her title in Madrid.
Badosa will face world number 27 Marta Kostyuk in the third round.
Earlier, Jannick Sinner reached the men’s last 32 with a straight-set win over Thanasi Kokkinakis, 6-1, 6-4.
The world number eight Sinner needed an hour and 18 minutes to deal with the Australian qualifier Kokkinakis and plays the Russian Alexander Shevchenko, who beat the Argentinian Sebastian Baez 6-3, 6-4.
Rome hasn’t seen an Italian tournament winner since Adriano Panatta in 1976, and Sinner has had quite a season, winning in Montpellier in February and losing the finals in Miami and Rotterdam to Daniil Medvedev.
He also reached the semifinals in Indian Wells, losing to eventual winner Carlos Alcaraz.
Britain’s Cameron Norrie sauntered past French qualifier Alexandre Muller 6-2, 6-3 to set up a clash with Marton Fucsovics in the next round after Hungary defeated Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4.