Novak Djokovic (in frame) returns the ball to Salvatore Caruso during their Italian Open match in Rome on Wednesday. Associated Press
Novak Djokovic said he was relieved to turn the page on his contentious US Open exit as he began his claycourt season with a solid victory in his first match at the Italian Open on Wednesday.
The world number one, who was disqualified in New York after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball during his fourth round match, defeated Italian wildcard Salvatore Caruso 6-3 6-2 to move into the third round in Rome.
Djokovic’s default in New York was met with heavy criticism by former players and fans on social media but the Serb said he was able to disconnect himself from the outside noise.
“I wouldn’t say I recovered happiness... because I’m happy regardless of tennis,” Djokovic told a news conference.
“I was actually looking forward to an official match as soon as possible after what happened in New York as I feel the sentiment on court needs to be positive.”
Djokovic’s frustration boiled over after dropping his serve against Pablo Carreno Busta in the opening set at Flushing Meadows but 10 days on in Rome he did not face a single break point in an imperious display against the unseeded Caruso.
“I didn’t feel any emotional or mental blockages or any drama playing a match today. I felt very comfortable,” Djokovic said.
“Caruso was a very good test for me. I was very pleased how I handled myself in important moments of the match.”
On arrival in Rome, an apologetic Djokovic vowed to be “the best version” of himself on and off the court and he kept his emotions in check against local hope Caruso.
Four-times Rome champion Djokovic, who received an opening-round bye, broke Caruso’s serve in the eighth game before serving out the opening set.
Caruso, who battled past American Tennys Sandgren in the opening round for his first ATP Masters 1000 match win, dropped his serve in a see-saw third game of the second set which lasted nearly 12 minutes.
With momentum firmly on his side, top seed Djokovic broke his opponent for a third time in the match before celebrating victory by blowing kisses into the empty stands at the Foro Italico.
Having recorded 51 victories in 60 matches, Djokovic is the second most successful player in the tournament’s history - just behind nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic has won 27 of his 28 matches this year and will resume his hunt for an 18th Grand Slam title at the French Open, which begins on Sept. 27.
Third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas fell to Italian teenager Jannik Sinner 6-1, 6-7 (9/11), 6-2, with sixth seeded Belgian David Goffin also exiting 6-2, 6-2 to Croatia’s Marin Cilic.
Halep downs Paolini: Top seed Simona Halep eased into the third round with a straight sets win over Jasmine Paolini of Italy.
World number two Halep came through 6-3, 6-4 against the 99th-ranked home hope on clay in Rome’s Foro Italico.
Swiss sixth seed Belinda Bencic fell 6-3, 6-1 in her second round match to Montenegro’s 86th ranked Danka Kovinic.
Belgian Elise Mertens, the 11th seed, saw off Poland’s Pole Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4 in the final warm-up tournament before the French Open.
Azarenka eclipses Venus: US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (9/7), 6-2 win over veteran American Venus Williams.
Azarenka, 31, successfully made the switch from hard court to clay after winning in Cincinnati and finishing runner-up to Naomi Osaka in the US Open last weekend.
World No.14 Azarenka needed just over two hours to get past 1999 Rome champion Venus, 40, in a clash between two former world number ones.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Azarenka will meet American third seed Sofia Kenin, winner of the Australian Open this season, for a place in the third round.