Djokovic sweeps into Italian Open quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd

Friday, 14 May 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

ROME (AFP): World number one Novak Djokovic swept into the Italian Open quarterfinals on Thursday with a straight sets wins over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in front of spectators who were allowed to watch in the Foro Italico.

Novak Djokovic

The five-time Rome champion won through 6-2, 6-1 in 70 minutes against the 48th-ranked Spaniard with the venue filled to 25% of capacity for the first time amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was not good, it was great. I missed the crowd,” said the 33-year-old, who next plays Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of last year’s French Open semi-final which the Serb won.

Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes.

“It always feels like home coming back to Rome,” said Djokovic, who has never failed to reach the quarterfinals in his 15 appearances in the clay-court event.

“Honestly, with the amount of love and appreciation that I get and respect from people here, not just on the court, but outside in the organisation here, from the drivers, the restaurant, people in hotel, everyone is really super kind to me. Maybe it helps that I speak Italian. Probably does. I love Italy. Who doesn’t?” Each year the love affair grows even more because the bond is stronger and stronger. Hopefully, I can feel a little bit of that love more tomorrow so I can keep on progressing in the tournament.” 

After losing his opening service game, Djokovic powered back with five breaks of serve, outclassing his rival, despite a late fightback, to seal the win on his sixth match point.

“He started well, but I managed to break back straight away and establish the control and consistency,” said the 18-time Grand Slam winner.

“I thought I played at least 20-30% better than on Monday. I am on a good trajectory and hopefully tomorrow will be even better.” 

Djokovic has a 4-2 record against Monte-Carlo champion Tsitsipas, who ended the run of Madrid runner-up Berrettini.

“I hope to do better this time,” said Tsitsipas, who lost a five-set marathon in last year’s Roland Garros.

Djokovic has won his past seven quarterfinals in Rome, with a 11-3 record in the last eight. Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals in Rome in 2019.

American Reilly Opelka also advanced to his second Masters 1,000 quarter-final with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory against in-form Russian Aslan Karatsev in one hour and 36 minutes.

The 23-year-old hit 18 aces and saved two set points at 4-6 in the first-set tie-break to set up a meeting with either Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime or Spaniard Federico Delbonis in the last eight.

Meanwhile, fans were happy to return after more than a year without live sport.

“After all this time, it’s good to be able to watch live sport,” said Alessandro Cimini, one of the first to arrive at the Foro Italico with his son to watch Djokovic followed by Rafael Nadal in action.

“We bought tickets in January 2020 and we can finally come! On the one hand I’m happy; it feels good after all we’ve been through even if obviously it’s not yet back to normal on centre court,” added another tennis fan Rosy De Luigi, who travelled from San Marino.

The Italian Cup final in Reggio Emilio next Wednesday will also have a limited crowd followed by the Euro 2020 in the capital’s Stadio Olimpico.