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.
Alex De Minaur believes he has the tennis world’s attention
Alex De Minaur puts the ATP Tour on notice.
The unbelievable stats behind Iga Swiatek’s Doha hat-trick
Iga Swiatek makes history again.
Ons Jabeur makes startling fitness confession ahead of Dubai Tennis Championships
Ons Jabeur has been candid about her fitness issues.
Rafael Nadal makes honest confession about prospect of his son playing tennis
“If he wants to play tennis, I will support him 100 percent. I would never veto his decision.”
Andy Murray refuses to give up on career despite dismal start to 2024
Andy Murray remains defiant in the face of criticism.
Rafael Nadal’s outfit for Indian Wells has been revealed ahead of his expected return
Rafael Nadal’s outfit for what is expected to be his next tournament has been released.
‘I don’t think Carlos Alcaraz will win 20 Grand Slams’, assesses top commentator
“We live in an unnatural time, because we’ve had these three players that have won 20-plus majors.”
Who are Frances Tiafoe’s sponsors? Yonex and Nike believe in ‘Big Foe’
Who backs American star Frances Tiafoe?
Emma Raducanu backed to become a ‘multiple Grand Slam champion’ by respected tennis voice
“There are people out there that have a very wrong perception of what she is like as a person and competitor.”
Key Novak Djokovic team member suffered ‘severe heart attack’ due to ‘stress of tennis tour’
Novak Djokovic’s physio Miljan Amanovic was “resuscitated four times” after a heart attack in 2017.