Djokovic Shrugs Off Sluggish Start To Advance In Rome
Great players find a way to win, even on days when they aren’t playing their best.
The Serbian overcame a rough first set - in which he committed 21 unforced errors and appeared physically unwell - to advance 7-6(5), 6-2 at the ATP Masters 1000 event.
"Still not the desired level, still finding the shots and finding that groove on the court," Djokovic said in his on-court interview. "It's always a little bit tricky playing someone for the first time. He's a clay-court specialist. He started better than I did, I started pretty slow, but I found my groove towards the end of the first. The second set was good, especially the last three or four games. I'm happy with the way I closed out the match."
The 35-year-old played with more margin and forced extended rallies in key moments of the match to move past the 6’5” Argentine. Despite having two set points at 4-5 in the first set, Djokovic was forced to a tie-break, where he won four consecutive points from 3/5 to seal an entertaining 75-minute set.
At 5-5 in the opening set, Djokovic appeared physically unwell as he hunched over in the corner of the court and took a tablet the following changeover. The Belgrade native continued to fight, forcing a break in Etcheverry’s first service game of the second set en route to closing a one-hour, 51-minute test.
How did the 93-time tour-level titlist find a way through the match?
"You act like you're 100 per cent," Djokovic said, while cracking a laugh. "Most of the times I guess you're not, but you want to show your opponent that you're out there trying to fight for every ball. I guess that's what happened, it's kind of cat-and-mouse always on clay."
Djokovic, who boasts a 65-10 Rome record, has never failed to reach the quarter-finals in 16 appearances in the Italian capital. A six-time Rome champion, Djokovic is aiming for a record-extending 39th Masters 1000 crown. He will next meet Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.
Etcheverry, 23, has played his best tennis this season. The Argentine was a finalist at the ATP 250 events in Santiago and Houston. Friday’s contest was his first match against a Top-10 opponent.
In a one-handed backhand clash, Dimitrov defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-6(3) after claiming 35 of 40 first-serve points. The Bulgarian found success by coming forward, having won all 12 of net points to move within one of tying his ATP Head2Head record against Wawrinka at seven a piece.
Dimitrov held a 3-1 lead in the second set before the Swiss fought back to later force a tie-break. The 26th seed Dimitrov won 62 per cent of rallies over four shots to advance.
“I’m just happy I was able to finish in straight sets,” Dimitrov said. “Overall, I felt good. It’s been a while since I’ve played matches like that. Off the blocks to play Stan is never easy. We’ve played so many times against each other, we kind of know what we are going to do in a lot of moments. I think today was a very small margin.”
Despite holding a 1-10 Head2Head record against Djokovic, the World No. 33 Dimitrov is looking forward to having another crack at the 22-time major champion.
“I like those matches,” Dimitrov said. “I’ve been on tour for so long, I feel comfortable to play against these guys. I know I don’t have the best record against him but I like to play against him and any of the top guys to see where I’m at. You never know how it’s going to go at the end of the day. I always like my chances, so you never know how it’s going to go.”