Defending Champ Djokovic Begins Rome Campaign
The seeded players spring into action on Friday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where defending champion Novak Djokovic and home favourite Jannik Sinner are among those seeking a fast start in Rome.
Djokovic begins his bid for a seventh title at the Foro Italico against Tomas Martin Etcheverry, while the eighth-seeded Sinner faces the big-hitting Thanasi Kokkinakis. A #NextGenATP clash between Holger Rune and Arthur Fils is another standout second-round clash in the top half of the draw at the clay-court ATP Masters 1000.
ATPTour.com looks ahead to some of the intriguing matchups on the Friday schedule in Rome.
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Tomas Martin Etcheverry (ARG)
Taking down Djokovic in the early rounds in Rome is a task that no one has yet managed. The World No. 1 may have suffered early losses in both clay-court events he has played this year (he went 2-2 across Monte-Carlo and Banja Luka), but the Serbian has never failed to reach the quarter-finals in 16 appearances in the Italian capital.
On six of those occasions, including 2022, Djokovic went on to lift the title at the Foro Italico. The man trying to dent Djokovic’s standout 64-10 Rome record on Friday is Tomas Martin Etcheverry, the No. 61-ranked Argentine who has been handed the ultimate second-round test on his Rome debut.
Etcheverry can take confidence from some excellent displays on the clay so far this year, including reaching his first two ATP Tour finals in Santiago and Houston. The 23-year-old will hope to exploit any struggles that Djokovic, who is playing for the first time in three weeks after missing Madrid, has adapting to the Italian clay.
“I feel that it takes more practice sessions, more weeks of spending time on the court and working on your shots, working on your tactics, on technique, adaptation to the court, than any other surface,” said Djokovic on Thursday when asked about the challenge of preparing for clay. “Some players say that about grass. I've been fortunate on grass, I adapt really quickly. But clay is something that really demands time for me.”
It will be the first ATP Head2Head meeting between Djokovic, chasing a record-extending 39th Masters 1000 crown, and Etcheverry, whose first-round triumph against Luca Van Assche was just his third at this level. Can the Argentine spring a mammoth surprise in the Eternal City?
 Jannik Sinner (ITA) vs. [Q] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS)
The 21-year-old Sinner looks to bring his strong ATP Masters 1000 form to his homeland, but the eighth seed has been handed a stiff opening test in the free-hitting Kokkinakis.
Sinner reached the semi-finals in Indian Wells and Monte-Carlo either side of a run to the championship match in Miami, earning him a 12-3 record at Masters 1000 level for the year so far. Despite not playing in Madrid, the World No. 8 feels ready to chase his second tour-level title of the season in front of his home fans.
“I made a lot of good [results]. The start of the season was good and I'm happy to be back here, especially in Rome," said Sinner, whose form has carried him to fifth place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, on Tuesday. "It's a special tournament for all Italians and also obviously for me. Physically, we worked very hard for one week now and I'm happy to be here."
On his day, Kokkinakis’ combination of big serving and powerful groundstrokes can test anyone on Tour, even a high-class mover such as Sinner, although the Italian leads 2-0 in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series. That includes a straight-sets win in Kokkinakis’s hometown of Adelaide in January, and the Australian qualifier will hope to return the favour and send the locals home disappointed again as he chases a second victory on his main-draw debut in Rome.
 Holger Rune (DEN) vs. [Q] Arthur Fils (FRA)
A #NextGenATP battle between established Top 10 star Rune and the fast-rising Fils should provide an intriguing spectacle for fans on Grand Stand Arena.
Rune will hope that his experience at this level proves decisive against 18-year-old Fils. The Dane, who turned 20 two weeks ago, won his maiden Masters 1000 trophy last November in Paris and reached another final in Monte-Carlo last month. Yet despite sitting at a career-high No. 7 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Rune’s clash with the World No. 119 Fils will be his main-draw debut in Rome.
The lack of any real weaknesses in Rune’s game makes Fils' ability to stay consistent key, although the Frenchman is also more than capable of producing moments of magic at crucial moments. He did exactly that en route to back-to-back ATP Tour semi-finals in Montpellier and Marseille in February, performances which made him an immediate favourite with his home fans.
Fils can also take confidence from defeating Juan Manuel Cerundolo in the opening round on Wednesday for his first main-draw win at a Masters 1000. His next challenge is to maintain that form against an opponent who holds a 22-9 record for the year and lifted his fourth ATP Tour title in Munich just under three weeks ago.
Also In Action…
Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Aliassime join Djokovic, Sinner and Rune as Top 10 stars in second-round action on Friday. The fourth-seeded Ruud, a two-time semi-finalist in Rome, takes on Arthur Rinderknech, while the 10th seed Auger-Aliassime chases his first clay-court win of the year against qualifier Alexei Popyrin.
Stan Wawrinka made a fast start to his Rome campaign on Wednesday with a straight-sets win against Ilya Ivashka, and the 2008 finalist seeks to back up that result against 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov on Grand Stand Arena. The 11th-seeded Karen Khachanov, a quarter-finalist in Madrid last week, faces Gregoire Barrere, while 13th-seeded Cameron Norrie meets qualifier Alexandre Muller.
Aside from cheering on Sinner, Italian fans will head to the iconic Court Pietrangeli to witness Fabio Fognini take on 30th seed Miomir Kecmanovic. The 35-year-old wild card Fognini, a quarter-finalist in 2018, defeated former World No. 1 Andy Murray in the first round.