Rome, May 11 (EFE).- Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic kicked off his Italian Open title defense on Tuesday with a hard-fought 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) victory over American Taylor Fritz.
Djokovic needed an hour and 38 minutes to clinch victory in a match played under a steady drizzle on Center Court, which will not have spectators in the stands until Thursday.
The five-time champion took the first set on the strength of one early service break and was poised to secure the second set in similar fashion.
But the match took a detour when a combination of unforced errors by Djokovic and a backhand passing shot on the back of the baseline by Fritz on break point thwarted the Serbian’s effort to serve out the contest at 5-4.
After a furious Djokovic demanded that the chair umpire check the condition of the rain-drenched court, the match was finally postponed for about three hours.
When play resumed the players each held serve easily to send the second set to a tiebreaker, which Djokovic won by overcoming a 5-4 deficit.
“I kind of kept the match under my control for most part of the two sets, then served for the match (but had a) very sloppy service game,” Djokovic said afterward. “He played well, made a great passing shot to come back. I was stressed out in the end obviously, but I think it was the right call to stop the match.”
The Serbian’s next opponent on the clay in Rome will be either Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie.
Italian world No. 9 Matteo Berrettini, fresh off a runner-up finish at last week’s Madrid Masters, defeated Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in round of 64 action on Tuesday.
But last year’s Italian Open runner-up, 10th-ranked Argentine Diego Schwartzman, lost badly to talented young Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-1, 6-3 in the round of 32.
Schwartzman had a career year in 2020 in which he reached the French Open semifinals and qualified for the elite, season-ending ATP Finals, but the 28-year-old has just a 12-9 record so far this year and is only 7-5 on clay, his favorite surface.
In women’s singles round of 64 action on Tuesday, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, the No. 12 seed and a 2020 Italian Open semifinalist, advanced with an easy 6-1, 6-2 victory over Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig.
But 10th-seeded Swiss Belinda Bencic lost 6-3, 6-4 to Kristina Mladenovic, Belgian No. 14 seed Elise Mertens fell 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova and British No. 16 seed Johanna Konta was routed by Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-1.
The Italian Open is a key tune-up event for tennis’ most prestigious clay-court tournament, the French Open, which gets under way on May 30. EFE