Rome: Holder Novak Djokovic began his hunt for a seventh Italian Open title by battling past the unseeded Tomas Martin Etcheverry 7-6(5) 6-2 on Friday while women's champion Iga Swiatek delivered a masterclass to reach the third round.
Djokovic got off to a shaky start by dropping his serve in the opening game of the second-round match. The Serbian, who pulled out of the Madrid Open last month, wore a compression sleeve on his right arm, sparking concerns about a niggling elbow issue.
The 22-times Grand Slam champion, who had a first-round bye, also appeared unwell at one point and asked his team for medical assistance during a changeover.
He squandered a chance to break back immediately but pounced when Etcheverry double-faulted and sent a forehand wide to level the set at 3-3.
The Argentinian forced a tiebreak where he raced ahead 5-3 but Djokovic began to dictate terms by stretching the rallies and clawed his way back to wrap up the set before grabbing an early break in the next.
A more relaxed Djokovic mixed up his game with some delicate drops en route to a 5-3 lead and closed out the victory on serve when his opponent found the net.
"I haven't played too many claycourt matches this season but you can say it was the best one so far," said Djokovic.
"Still not at the desired level, still finding the shots and that groove on the court. It's always a little tricky playing somebody for the first time. He's a claycourt specialist and started better than I did.
"But I found my groove towards the end of the first set and the second set was good, especially the last three or four games." Djokovic said he had not felt at his best on court. "You act like you are 100%. Most of the times you are not but you want to show your opponent that you're out there and trying to fight for every ball." KOVINIC RETIRES Earlier, top seed Swiatek cruised to her 12th successive victory in Rome, following back-to-back titles in the event, with a 6-0 6-0 hammering of 2021 French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in only 67 minutes.
"The score doesn't really matter and it doesn't have any influence on my feeling on the court," reigning Roland Garros champion Swiatek said. "I'm just trying to play my best no matter what the score is." Jelena Ostapenko overcame Sorana Cirstea 6-3 3-6 6-2 and was joined in the next round by fellow former Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova who advanced after an ailing Danka Kovinic retired while trailing 6-2 4-1.
Spaniard Paula Badosa cut short the comeback of fourth seed Ons Jabeur with a 6-1 6-4 win over the Tunisian who was playing her first match since retiring from the Stuttgart semi-finals last month with a calf injury.
On the men's side, local favourite Jannik Sinner got past Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-1 6-4 in testing conditions.
"I'm happy about my level today," said Sinner. "It wasn't easy. It was a little bit breezy, a little bit windy and I think he, especially in the second set, served a little bit better.
"I also had a couple of chances then which I didn't use but I'm very happy about my serve; I felt the ball very well." Alexei Popyrin stunned world number 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 4-6 7-5 in an epic clash lasting more than three hours while Stan Wawrinka fell 6-4 7-6(3) to Grigor Dimitrov before Gregoire Barrere upset 11th-ranked Karen Khachanov 4-6 6-4 7-6(4). (Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Clare Fallon)