WATCH: Novak Djokovic makes winning return at Italian Open despite complaints
Novak Djokovic made a winning return to action at the Italian Open despite complaining about the state of the court and appearing to be feeling a little under the weather.
While the absent Rafael Nadal remains the main injury concern ahead of the French Open, Djokovic sat out the Madrid Open because of a right elbow problem.
He still had strapping on the joint during his second-round clash with Argentina’s Tomas Etcheverry in Rome and had to battle hard to win a long first set before pulling away to triumph 7-6 (5) 6-2.
– Nole, can I get an autograph?
— Internazionali BNL d'Italia (@InteBNLdItalia) May 12, 2023
Djokovic, who will be overtaken as world number one by Carlos Alcaraz a week on Monday, dropped serve in the opening game and, although he quickly fought back, he was unhappy about the number of bad bounces.
The 35-year-old also seemed to be troubled by his stomach and he missed two set points at 4-5 before trailing 3-0 and 5-3 in the tie-break.
Etcheverry could not finish the job, though, and, with Roma boss Jose Mourinho among those watching from the stands, Djokovic was able to breathe much more easily after winning the final four points of the tie-break.
Speaking afterwards on Amazon Prime Video, he said: “I’m still not at the desired level, finding the shots, finding that groove on the court.
On his complaints about the court, he said: “Every second bounce is uneven, the court is not in a great state, but you’ve got to deal with that, you’ve got to accept the conditions the way they are and try to make the most out of it.”
Earlier, Cameron Norrie eased into the third round of the Italian Open with a 6-2 6-3 victory over French qualifier Alexandre Muller, while defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek was in ruthless form.
British number one Norrie has yet to really catch fire on the European clay so far this season, winning one match each in Barcelona and Madrid and losing his first encounter in Monte-Carlo.
— LTA (@the_LTA) May 12, 2023
While this was a match Norrie would certainly have expected to win, the manner of his success was particularly encouraging, with the 27-year-old facing only one break point and taking his own chances confidently.
Next the 13th seed will face Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who upset Australian Alex De Minaur 6-3 6-4.
Djokovic meets Grigor Dimitrov, who saw off Stan Wawrinka, while there were victories for Casper Ruud, Holger Rune and popular Italian duo Jannik Sinner and Fabio Fognini.
Performance of the day, though, came from world number one Swiatek, who responded to her Madrid Open final loss to Aryna Sabalenka by thumping former French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0 6-0.
Swiatek lost on her Rome debut in 2020 to Arantxa Rus but is now on a 12-match winning streak in the Italian capital.
“When I’m playing these kind of matches, I’m just trying to be focused,” the Pole told reporters. “I’m trying to remember what got me this nice score, what I should do to continue playing that well.”
Fourth seed Ons Jabeur, who lost to Swiatek in the final last year, was beaten 6-1 6-4 by Paula Badosa on her return from injury, while ninth seed Maria Sakkari defeated Barbora Strycova – who is back on tour after maternity leave – 6-1 6-3.
Novak Djokovic makes French Open admission about potential last Rafael Nadal showdown
Novak Djokovic has discussed the prospect of playing his last match against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal looks set to play Australian Open as travel plans revealed in big comeback update
Rafael Nadal’s travel plans ahead of the 2024 season have been finalised, according to a report.
‘Jannik Sinner is a millimetre from Novak Djokovic – Nole fears him’, claims Slam winner
A French Open winner thinks Jannik Sinner has almost reached Novak Djokovic’s level.
Why the return of Sky Sports will provide a massive profile boost for tennis in the UK
Kevin Palmer explains why the return of tennis to Sky Sports will be good for the sport in the UK and Ireland.
Boris Becker highlights four young ATP stars ‘you will hear a lot from in the coming year’
Boris Becker has named the four leading young ATP players.
ITIA confirms Novak Djokovic did not refuse doping test at Davis Cup Finals
The ITIA has explained why Novak Djokovic did not break anti-doping protocol at the Davis Cup Finals.
WATCH: ‘Terrible singer’ Leylah Fernandez’s hilarious karaoke version of Journey classic
Have fun listening to Leylah Fernandez ‘signing’ Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’.
The 13 WTA players whose last title was remarkably a Grand Slam: Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu and more…
There are four active players whose last title was a Grand Slam.
Jannik Sinner underlines Darren Cahill’s key contribution to his sensational growth
Jannik Sinner praises Darren Cahill for giving him confidence.
‘Mr Novak Djokovic must be suspended. You don’t have the right to refuse testing’
Novak Djokovic under fire for refusing to provide a sample before one of his matches.