Djokovic Begins His Roman Conquest With A Business-Like Win

Novak Djokovic (photo: Foto FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 10, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 and six-time Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion Novak Djokovic began his Roman conquest against French lucky loser Corentin Moutet in their second career meeting Friday evening at Foro Italico – and it was a business-like win for the Serbian great.

Djokovic handled Moutet, 6-3, 6-1, in an economical hour and 24 minutes on Campo Centrale for his 1,099th career ATP Tour victory. Djokovic loves Rome and Rome loves him.

Making his 18th consecutive appearance at the event (where he debuted in 2007), Djokovic entered the season’s third ATP Masters 1000 event on clay without winning a title earlier in the season for just the third time in his career (2018, 2022). As he began his quest to win his record-extending 41st ATP Masters 1000 title, Djokovic was competing for the first time since the semifinals at Monte-Carlo last month. He recovered from a 1-3 deficit early in the opening set and righted himself in the second set against the crafty left-handed Moutet.

“Match play is different to practice sets,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “I played a lefty and I have not practiced with a lefty in a while, so it took me a little time to adjust to the different rotations of the ball. The first four games were quite bad from me. A bad start. I lost both my services games.

“But then I played well. I only lost one game from 1-3 down. Corentin is a very talented player. He has great hands and is very unpredictable. You don’t know what comes up next, so I had to stay focused, which I did and it is a good opening match.”

Djokovic finished with 21 winners to 13 unforced errors, converted six of nine break points and outpointed Moutet 61-40. The 83rd-ranked Moutet countered with 13 winners but his 20 unforced errors were far too many and he was able to only convert two of seven break-point chances.

Djokovic served up a big smile and waved to the crowd in celebrating his 68th Italian triumph, another job well done. However, as he was signing autographs coming off the court, Djokovic was hit on the head by a water bottle. Tournament management issued the following statement:

“Novak Djokovic on leaving the Central court at the end of his match was hit on the head by a water bottle while signing autographs to spectators. He underwent appropriate medication and has already left the Foro Italico to return to his hotel; his condition is not a cause for concern.”

Next, Djokovic will face 32nd-ranked Alejandro Tabilo of Chile on Sunday. The 29th seed advanced 6-3, 7-6 (4) over No. 59 Yannick Hanfmann of Germany.

Zverev advances to Rome third round for sixth time

Former Italian Open champion Alexander Zverev advanced to the third round in Rome for the sixth time by defeating No. 70 Aleksandar Vukic of Australia, 6-0, 6-4, in one hour and 19 minutes on Pietrangeli. The World No. 5 from Germany hit 20 winners to 17 unforced errors.

“Hopefully this is just the start. I want to play a good tournament, play a lot of matches and go deep. Giving myself a chance to win one,” said the third-seeded Zverev, who won the Rome title in 2017 at age 20. “That was a good start. Especially in the first set I came out firing and I am happy about today.”

Zverev, who is looking to garner his first trophy of the season, will play Italian Luciano Darderi. The 2023 Cordoba champion beat 28th seed Mariano Navone of Argentina, 6-3, 6-2.

Kecmanovic stuns Ruud with comeback victory

No. 58 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia downed fifth-seeded Norwegian Casper Ruud in stunning fashion, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, to advance to the third round.

Kecmanovic, who recovered from a first-set medical timeout to treat back pain, broke Ruud’s serve four times in the final two sets to garner his first Top-10 victory since last October. The win avenged a loss to Ruud in Madrid 13 days ago. Next, Kecmanovic will play Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro, who defeated Jordan Thompson of Australia, 6-1, 6-3.

“It means a lot, especially on clay, where he is one of the best players today,” Kecmanovic said afterward. “I’m happy that I was able [after the first set] to come back and win.”

Nadal ready to lose fear of getting injured again

During his post-match news conference on Thursday, following his three-set first-round win over Zizou Bergs, Rafael Nadal said he believes it’s time for him to lose the fear of injuring himself again. Now, he feels, is the moment for him to play uninhibited so he’s ready for Roland Garros, which begins May 26.

“If something on happens, we’re going to accept it,” Nadal said. “I’ve arrived at the moment that I need to try, I need to go for everything. If something happens, something happens. That’s the truth.

“It’s not like in Madrid, it’s not like in Barcelona, especially that I need to analyze how the things are improving, to explore if I am able to adapt all these things to the new weeks. But that’s over and we are in Rome.

“I have Roland Garros in just two weeks and a half, so… We arrive at a moment that I need to prove to myself if I am able to push my body to the limit, that I need to push to feel myself ready for what’s coming.

“I am not talking only about Roland Garros. I am talking about the next match. I need to lose this fear. Matches like today help. Some moments I was moving faster.

“Some moments not. I need to get used to that, to take that risk. If something wrong happens, we’re going to accept it. But that’s the moment to push. I feel more ready to try it than before.”

Around Foro Italico

No. 8 seed Grigor Dimitrov struck 32 winners and swept past Yoshihito Nishioka, 7-5, 6-4, in an hour and 37 minutes to remain unbeaten against the Japanese lefty. He won 92 percent of his first-serve points in advancing to the third round against French qualifier Terence Atmane. The French qualifier won by retirement over No. 26 seed Lorenzo Musetti of Italy. Atmane led the Italian 7-5, 1-0.

“I am happy with the win,” Dimitrov said in an on-court interview. “It was a difficult match today. A lefty in the first match is never easy. The conditions were the warmest this year. Clay, lefty, so everything adds up, but I am happy to finish in straight sets.”

Other second-round winners included: Nuno Borges of Portugal, Zhang Zhizhen of China, No. 12 seed Ben Shelton of the United States, No. 24 seed Sebastian Korda of the United States, No. 16 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, qualifier Francesco Passaro of Italy and No. 20 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

Borges upset No. 15 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-4, 6-4, while Zhang won in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3 over No. 19 seed Adriano Mannarino of France. Shelton defeated Pavel Kotov of Russia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, to reach the third round at Rome for the first time, while Korda beat Italian Flavio Cobolli, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-4. Khachanov advanced over Alexander Shevchenko of Kazakhstan, 6-4, 6-4, while Fritz prevailed over Fabio Fognini of Italy, 6-3, 6-4, to improve to 8-3 on clay this season. Passaro continued his surprising run by upsetting No. 23 seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-3, while Cerundolo took out Italian wild card Matteo Gigante, 6-1, 6-3.

Friday’s Foro Italico results

Saturday’s Foro Italico order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic entered play Friday with a career win-loss record of 67-11 in Rome. He’s won six Italian titles. Rafael Nadal leads with 70 wins at Foro Italico and he’s won 10 Italian titles.

“Quotable …”

“I’m second in the race. I feel great about it. I want to go better. So even when I lose the thousand points, actually I will probably stay No. 4. By this year’s ranking, I’m still No. 2. If I continue to play good, in the end of the season I can maybe become No. 2 or 3, whatever.

“I don’t feel pressure at all. Like, I’m feeling only happy that I won here last year, and I want to do well this year. But maybe it’s not the right approach. Maybe I should change it, I don’t know (smiling).

“For the moment, I don’t want to change it. I like being relaxed. Let’s see.”

— 2023 Rome champion Daniil Medvedev on the pressure of defending his title.