Novak Djokovic at centre of 'worrying' drama at Italian Open

Things don't look great for the Serb ahead of the French Open.

Seen here, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic.
Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic wore a protective sleeve on his troublesome elbow during an unconvincing win at the Rome Masters. Pic: Getty

Novak Djokovic has battled through a fresh injury scare to book his spot in the next round of the Italian Open in Rome after a less than convincing display against Argentine Tomas Etcheverry. The 22-time grand slam champion looked well short of his best despite recording a 7-5 (7/6), 6-2 win the clay court lead-up tournament before the French Open.

A six-time winner in Rome, the Serbian tennis star was made to work by the 61st-ranked Argentine but ultimately prevailed in one hour and 51 minutes to set up a third round clash with Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Stan Wawrinka in their second round clash. Djokovic and his legion of fans will no doubt be concerned by the elbow injury that again caused the Serb some issues in Rome.

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Djokovic got off to an uncharacteristically poor start after dropping serve in the first game, before putting on a protective elbow sleeve in a sign of the obvious discomfort he's experiencing with the injury. The World No.1 struggled through the first set off the back of a staggering 21 unforced errors.

The first set hinged on a scrappy game six, in which Djokovic broke to level the scores following a battle at deuce. Djokovic then appeared unwell at 5-5 in the first set and took a tablet in the changeover.

From there, the set went with serves until Djokovic won the final four points in the tie-break to take the opening stanza. Djokovic then kicked up a level, breaking serve in the first and seventh games of the second set to give the match a more straightforward look than Etcheverry's performance deserved.

Djokovic - who has not been knocked out of an ATP Tour event at the first attempt since the Monte Carlo Masters last year - admitted after the match that he is still some way off where he hopes to be for the French Open, where the Serb will by vying for a men's record 23rd grand slam singles title.

"You act like you're 100 per cent. Most of the times I guess you're not, but you want to show your opponent that you're out there trying to fight for every ball. I guess that's what happened, it's kind of cat-and-mouse always on clay," Djokovic said.

"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.

Alexei Popyrin topples World No.10

In other men's action in Rome, Australia's Alexei Popyrin continued his stellar year with a brilliant win against Felix Auger-Aliassime. The 23-year-old from Sydney won out 6-4 4-6 7-5 on Friday in a three-hour, 17-minute epic on Grand Stand Arena in Rome.

Auger-Aliassime, Canada's world No.10, struck 38 winners but Popyrin held his own to rattle back 36. The Australian qualifier made his decisive move when he clinched the only break of the deciding set in the 11th game with a stunning backhand pass.

Alexei Popyrin scored a stunning win over Felix Auger-Aliassime in Rome. Pic: Getty
Alexei Popyrin scored a stunning win over Felix Auger-Aliassime in Rome. Pic: Getty

Popyrin then held his nerve on his own serve to book a third-round spot against Roman Safiullin, who beat No.22 seed Sebastian Korda in straight sets. Remarkably, Popyrin – ranked No.77 in the world – also beat Auger-Aliassime in Adelaide in January.

Popyrin's Aussie compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis did not fare as well, crashing out 6-1, 6-4 against local star Jannik Sinner. The Italian World No.8 took one hour and 18 minutes to deal with the Australian qualifier and will play Russian Alexander Shevchenko, who beat Argentine Sebastian Baez 6-3, 6-4.

World No.7 Holger Rune marked his Rome debut with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Arthur Fils of France.

with agencies

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