Djokovic Starts Roman Run With Impressive Win

Novak Djokovic (photo: Internazionali BNL d’Italia)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Five-time Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion Novak Djokovic has never lost before the quarterfinals in Rome. He’s in his record-extending 369th week as World No. 1. Tuesday afternoon on Court Centrale, Djokovic played like a man on a mission. Not only does he want to win Rome for a sixth time, he also wants to remain No. 1.

Coming into his second-round match against Aslan Karatsev of Russia, Djokovic knew he must reach the Rome semifinals to remain No. 1. Otherwise, World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev will return to No. 1 next week. He also wanted to bounce back from his third-set tie-break semifinal loss to Carlos Alcaraz at the Mutua Madrid Open from last Saturday.

Mission accomplished.

As it happened, the 37-time Masters 1000 champion Djokovic went to work quickly – and efficiently – and captured a comprehensive 6-3, 6-2 win over the 35th-ranked Karatsev in an hour and 30 minutes before an enthusiastic crowd that cheered wildly for Djokovic. It was Djokovic’s second win in three career meetings against Karatsev.

The Serbian hit 15 winners, made just 10 unforced errors and converted four of 10 break points against Karatsev thanksto a relentless return game, in which he won 70 percent (21 of 30) second-serve return points. Djokovic outpointed the Russian, who hit 18 winners to 36 unforced errors, 67-47. Afterward, he celebrated his 60th career Rome victoryby signing plenty of autographs and posing for selfies with his fans.

“I’ll take this win for sure,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview after his victory. “It’s a straight-set win against a quality opponent. I’m looking forward to the next round. …

“You always hope you can play some exciting and attractive points and come out as the winner of those points and celebrate with the crowd,” he added. “The crowd is looking for energy and excitement – and for a fight – and they want to see some good tennis. It’s always nice to play in the Colosseum of tennis, and this stadium certainly is.”

A year ago, Djokovic lost the Rome final in three sets to 10-time champion Rafael Nadal. This year, if they are to meet again, it would be in Saturday’s semifinals – potentially for Djokovic’s 1,000 career win. Next, Djokovic will await the winner of Wednesday’s second-round match between 361st-ranked Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland and No. 59 Laslo Djere of Serbia.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s action included the close of the first round and the start of the second round for many of the seeds, including: No. 5 Casper Ruud, No. 6 Andrey Rublev, No. 8 Felix Auger-Aliassime, No. 9 Cameron Norrie and No. 10 Jannik Sinner.

Sinner sets up an all-Italian affair with Fognini

Tenth seed Jannik Sinner improved to 7-0 in opening-round matches this season and won his 22nd match with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 40 Pedro Martinez of Spain in their first meeting.

The featured night session match on Court Centrale lasted an hour and 23 minutes and Sinner put a wrap on the win with his fourth ace of the match. It was his 26th winner and 58th point against 45 points for the Spaniard.

The World No. 13 Sinner is making his fourth straight appearance in Rome – he’s now 5-3 – and his win advanced him to face 57th-ranked fellow Italian Fabio Fognini Wednesday evening, hoping to equal his best result of reaching the third round achieved in 2020.

“I’m very pleased, obviously. It was a very warm welcome from all [of the Italian fans],” Sinner said in his on-court interview after his victory.

“It’s an incredible feeling playing here in Rome. Next round, two Italians. Let’s see how it goes. I can be happy. I can do better, for sure.”

Schwartzman garners tour-leading 17th clay win

No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina saved a couple of match points during the 10th game of the final set after battling back from down 0-3. Then, he outlasted No. 31 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in a decisive tie-break to win 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in two hours and 43 minutes on Court Centrale.

Schwartzman hit a backhand winner that capped an 11-shot rally to conclude the baseline-intensive first-round match. It was one of 24 backhand winners that the Argentine hit on the day.

The victory was Schwartzman’s third in three career head-to-head meetings against the Serbian, who entered Rome with a career-high ranking. He’s 9-1 in opening-round matches this season following his latest victory.

The World No. 15 Schwartzman struck 40 overall winners to overcome 48 unforced errors, while Kecmanovic hit 24 winners but committed 35 unforced errors. Schwartzman outpointed Kecmanovic 100-93 to collect his ATP Tour-leading 17th victory on clay this season in 23 matches. Kecmanovic is 11-7 on clay.

A year ago, Schwartzman bowed in the opening round to Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime after reaching the Rome final in 2020. Next, he will face 60th-ranked American lucky loser Marcos Giron in the second round.

Auger-Aliassime grinds out tough win over Davidovich Fokina

No. 8 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada has been a quarterfinalist in each of his last three tournaments – Barcelona, Estoril and Madrid. Tuesday evening, the World No. 9 rallied from a set down to pull out a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory over No. 29 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain on Pietrangeli.

Auger-Aliassime garnered his 22nd win of the season and seventh on clay in dramatic three-hour and two-minute fashion. He broke Davidovich Fokina twice in the final set – three times overall – and it’s the fourth time this year he’s come back to win after losing the first set. Auger-Aliassime tallied 38 winners to 31 unforced errors, while Davidovich Fokina finished with 28 winners and made 27 unforced errors. Auger-Aliassime outpointed his opponent 107-105.

“It’s amazing, the only other place I get that is in Montreal,” Auger-Aliassime said in his on-court interview, commenting on the fan support he received during the match. “It’s quite unbelievable to receive this support in Rome. I love playing in Italy. The fans are so passionate – they know the players – and they really care. What an atmosphere, to be honest. That’s what you play for.”

Around Foro Italico

• No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain moved into the second round with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Italian wild card Luca Nardi in an hour and 32 minutes on Grand Stand Arena. It was the Briton’s 20th victory of the season. Norrie hit 13 winners and outpointed Nardi 65-54 to advance against No. 23 Marin Cilic of Croatia.

It was the tournament debut for the 201st-ranked Nardi, who was playing in just his second career ATP Tour main draw following Antwerp in 2020. Nardi has won two ATP Challenger Tour titles this season at Forli, Italy and Lugano, Switzerland, both on indoor hard courts.

• No. 5 seed Casper Ruud of Norway came back from a set down to beat No. 32 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, to wrap up play on Grand Stand Arena Tuesday night. The World No. 10 earned his first victory in three tries against the Dutchman by hitting 21 winners to 18 unforced errors and outscored his opponent 102-88 during the two-hour and 20-minute match. Next, Ruud will face either No. 38 Jenson Brooksby of the United States or No. 48 David Goffin of Belgium.

• No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev fell to No. 54 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-2, 6-4, in just 68 minutes. Krajinovic hit 26 winners, made only 12 unforced errors and converted three of four break points against the World No. 7 from Russia. Rublev countered with 15 winners and 11 unforced errors. It was Krajinovic’s third career win in five meetings against Rublev and it was their first meeting on clay. Next, Krajinovic awaits the winner of the all-Italian second-round match  No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner and Fabio Fognini.

• No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland was upset by No. 48 David Goffin of Belgium, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (2) on Pietrangeli. Goffin won 75 percent (52 of 69) of his first-serve points and outpointed Hurkacz 98-89 during the two-hour and 27-minute match. It was the Belgian’s first Top 15 win in over a year. Next, Goffin will play 38th-ranked American Jenson Brooksby.

• No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada beat No. 25 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (5), in an hour and 40 minutes on Court 1. The World No. 16 Shapovalov outpointed his opponent 73-65 to advance to the third round. He awaits the winner between No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal and No. 27 John Isner.

• No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 76th-ranked qualifier Brandon Nakashima of the United States on Grand Stand Arena in their first meeting. The win improved Dimitrov’s Masters 1000 win-loss record to 10-4 this season.

A Rome quarterfinalist two years ago, Dimitrov struck 24 winners, converted five of 11 break-point chances and outpointed Nakashima 78-66 to advance against World No. 5 and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece for the third straight tournament.

• American John Isner, who leads the ATP Tour in total service aces, fired 13 aces – he now has 399 – and converted three of five break points to beat 49th-ranked qualifier Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, 6-4, 6-3, on Court 1. The 27th-ranked Isner’s victory – his first in Rome since 2017 – advanced him to face World No. 4 and No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal.

• No. 45 Cristian Garin of Chile beat 61st-ranked lucky loser Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, 6-4, 6-4, to advance to the third round against either No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie or No. 23 Marin Cilic. Garin converted four of 15 break points and outpointed Ruusuvuori 65-60.

• In a match-up of qualifiers, Estoril champion Sebastian Baez of Argentina, ranked 37th, defeated No. 67 Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-2, on Court 2 for his sixth straight victory. Next, Baez will face World No. 3 and second seed Alexander Zverev of Germany.

Tuesday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia results

Wednesday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic has reached the Rome finals 11 time (he’s 5-6 in title matches) and his win over Aslan Karatsev was his 60th in the Italian capital city. He’s now won 60-plus matches in his career at the Australian Open (82), Roland Garros and the US Open (81 each) and Wimbledon (79). Djokovic is now three wins away from 1,000 career victories.

“Quotable …”

“I like what I do, honestly. I am not playing anymore for things outside of my happiness and for things outside of my personal motivation.

“I am happy doing what I am doing. I still feel [I am] competitive when I am healthy enough.”

Rafael Nadal, 10-time Italian Open champion, during his pre-tournament news conference.