Novak Djokovic, in search of rhythm on clay before Roland-Garros, won two consecutive matches on ocher for the first time this year to qualify for the knockout stages of the Masters 1000 in Rome on Sunday.
The defending champion, who is aiming for a seventh crown on the banks of the Tiber, was solid to overcome some turbulence in the second set and subdue the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov (33rd in the world), 6-3, 4-6, 6- 1, in 2h20.
Two weeks before Roland-Garros (May 28-June 11), “Nole” is gaining confidence after a dotted start to the year, between a hard North American tour missed due to lack of an anti-Covid vaccine, elbow injury and disappointing results in his first two clay-court tournaments.
He had lost in his second matches in Monte-Carlo (in 1/8) as in Banja Luka (in quarters) before withdrawing from Madrid.
Against Dimitrov, Djokovic played without the right arm sleeve he wore on Friday or apparent elbow discomfort.
The seeded N.1 has perfectly mastered the first and third sets. Above all, he was able to quickly get back in the saddle when the Bulgarian experienced a state of grace by winning twelve consecutive points to win the second set.
“I was solid, I think. I could have won in straight sets, but luckily I made a crucial break from the first game (of the third set, editor’s note)”, commented the 35-year-old Serb, who will find in eighth the Briton Cameron Norrie (13th) or the Hungarian Marton Fucsovics (92nd).
Swiatek rolls out
Stefanos Tsitispas (N.5), finalist last year against “Nole”, only spent a few minutes on the court on Sunday. Time for the Greek to complete his second round match against the Portuguese Nuno Borges (88th), interrupted at 6-3, 4-3 on Saturday evening by the rain (final score 6-3, 6-3).
Daniil Medvedev, far from being an ocher specialist, is not a favorite alongside Djokovic or Tsitsipas. But the Russian offered himself a little pleasure by winning his first match in Rome, in his fourth participation, by dismissing in the second round the Finn Emil Ruusuvuori (43rd in the world), 6-4, 6-2.
Among the women, the world No.1 and double title holder Iga Swiatek easily qualified for the round of 16 by sweeping the Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko (68th) 6-2, 6-0.
The 21-year-old Polish woman certainly gave up her first two games of the tournament, after her initial 6-0, 6-0 against Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (42nd). But the one who claims to approach “each match as a final” then proceeded very quietly to beat Tsurenko by the same score as at Roland-Garros last year.
Swiatek took the opportunity to reiterate his support for Ukraine: “It’s pretty obvious that we have to support Ukraine, I will do it until the war ends. I know they are in a difficult situation. , so I have a lot of sympathy for the Ukrainian players”, underlined the Pole, who will be opposed in the next round to the Croatian Donna Vekic (24th in the world) or the Russian Liudmila Samsonova (16th).
The winner of the last Roland-Garros is more than ever the arch-favorite while the other main seeds fall one after the other. After Aryna Sabalenka (N.2), Jessica Pegula (N.3) and Ons Jabeur (N.4), the American Coco Gauff (N.6) fell against the Czech Marie Bouzkova (38th in the world).