Seeking to regain his aura as a nearly unbeatable player after a lengthy absence from the tour, Novak Djokovic took another step in the right direction by beating Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-2 in his Italian Open debut on Tuesday. .
The world number one, on the hunt for a sixth title in Rome, showed off his counter-punctuating prowess late in the first set as he raced to catch a ball that bounced near the net post, then dropped back to return with a backhand volley. which gave him the point.
It was the kind of move Djokovic made all the time last year when he came so close to capturing all four Grand Slam titles in one year.
On one of his favorite tracks, the Serbian star celebrated the point with a gesture that prompted the Campo Centrale crowd to clap louder. Many stood up.
“You’re always looking to provide points that are exciting and attractive, earning them so you can celebrate with people,” Djokovic said. “It’s what people want, they want energy, emotion and to see good tennis.”
“We have offered very good points. It’s always great to play in the tennis arena,” said the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
It was a pretty neat performance for Djokovic, who made 10 errors to his Russian rival’s 36.
Djokovic needs to reach the semifinals in Rome to remain number one in the world ranking. Otherwise, Daniil Medvedev will climb to the top and be the top seed at the French Open which starts in 12 days.
Djokovic missed several tournaments earlier this year for not having been vaccinated against the coronavirus, which caused him to be deported from Australia on the eve of the season’s first Grand Slam.
Seeking his first title in 2022, Djokovic lost in the Serbian Open final to Andrey Rublev and succumbed to Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open semifinals last weekend.
Djokovic’s next rival will come from the winner of the duel between the Swiss Stan Wawrinka and his compatriot Laslo Djere.
Also on the clay courts of the Foro Italico, American John Isner defeated Miami Open semifinalist Francisco Cerúndolo 6-4, 6-3 and will face Rafael Nadal, a 10-time champion in Rome.
Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, a tournament finalist two years ago, saved two match points to beat Serb Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
Another Argentine, Sebastian Báez, extended his winning streak to eight after beating Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-2, in a matchup of players who made it through the qualifying round. Báez was recently crowned at the Estoril tournament in Portugal and will now meet Alexander Zverev, who lost to Alcaraz in the final in Madrid on Sunday.
In the women’s draw, the first round saw a duel between two former US Open champions: the reigning Emma Raducanu and Bianca Andreescu, who lifted the trophy in 2019.
Canada’s Andreescu led the battle 6-2, 2-1 when Britain’s Raducanu had to withdraw with a back injury.
For her part, Colombian María Camila Osorio debuted with a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win against Italian Lucia Bronzetti and will now face Belarusian Victoria Azarenka.