Novak Djokovic is hunting for his seventh title in Rome

Rome (AFP) - Novak Djokovic fought his way into the third round of the Italian Open on Friday, beating Tomas Etcheverry 7-5 (76), 6-2 in a surprisingly tight encounter.

A six-time winner in Rome, Djokovic was made to work by the Argentine, prevailing in one hour, 51 minutes to set up a third round clash with Grigor Dimitrov who beat Stan Wawrinka earlier in the day.

Djokovic has not been knocked out of an ATP tour event at the first attempt since the Monte Carlo Masters last year, just his second tournament last season following his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Still nursing an injury to his right elbow he had to battle his way past Etcheverry, winning the first set via a tie-break before finally ensuring passage into the next round.

“I’ve said before that this surface requires more time for me than maybe for other players to get myself to a good level, move well and hit the ball well. Rome has always been a tournament that I need for Roland Garros,” Djokovic said in Italian to Sky Sport.

“This is my favourite clay tournament, there’s an incredible atmosphere on centre court and the consistency that I’ve had in previous years gives me a lot of faith.”

Djokovic, 35, has made 12 finals in Roma and said that on Thursday that he was feeling good ahead of the tournament despite missing last week’s Madrid Masters.

Wearing an elbow brace he made a slow start, dropping his serve in the first game and struggling to deal with the Argentine’s powerful shots.

The first set hinged on a scrappy game six, in which Djokovic broke to level the scores following a battle at deuce.

From there, the set went with the serve until Djokovic won the final four points in the tie-break to take the lead.

Djokovic then kicked up a level, breaking serve in the first and seventh games of the second set to give the match a more straight-forward look than Etcheverry’s performance deserved.

- Perfect Swiatek -

Iga Swiatek started her bid to win a third straight Italian Open title in perfect fashion, not dropping a game in her straight-sets thrashing of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

World number one Swiatek demolished Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-0 in just over an hour to ease into the third round.

Iga Swiatek celebrates after thrashing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the Italian Open

Losing finalist in Madrid last weekend, Swiatek looked in great form in the tournament she won last year before going on to blitz the French Open even though she is shaking off a rib injury suffered at Indian Wells.

“I still may feel some discomfort, but it is really, really low. Even when I withdrew from Miami, the pain was low. It was just the risk of getting it worse that stopped me,” Swiatek told reporters.

Swiatek faces Lesia Tsurenko in the last 32 after extending her winning streak in the Italian capital to 12 matches.

Last year’s losing finalist, seed Ons Jabeur fell 6-1, 6-4 to Paula Badosa.

Jabeur joins world number two Aryna Sabalenka, third-ranked Jessica Pegula and 2019 winner Karolina Pliskova in being dumped out in the second round.

The 28-year-old has had calf problems in recent weeks, an injury which caused her to retire in the semi-finals at Stuttgart and not defend her Madrid title.

Badosa will face world number 27 Marta Kostyuk in the third round.

Earlier, Jannick Sinner cruised into the men’s last 32 with a straight-sets win over Thanasi Kokkinakis, 6-1, 6-4.

World number eight Sinner took one hour, 18 minutes to deal with Australian qualifier Kokkinakis, and will play Russian Alexander Shevchenko, who beat Argentine Sebastian Baez 6-3, 6-4.

Rome has not seen an Italian tournament winner since Adriano Panatta in 1976, and Sinner has had a decent season, winning in Montpellier in February and losing the finals in Miami and Rotterdam to Daniil Medvedev.

He also reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells, losing to eventual winner Carlos Alcaraz.

Briton Cameron Norrie strolled past French qualifier Alexandre Muller 6-2, 6-3 to set up a clash with Marton Fucsovics in the next round after the Hungarian beat Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4.