By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Five-time champion Novak Djokovic beat Taylor Fritz to take his Rome record to 56-9.
Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d’Italia
Novak Djokovic speaks Italian and has demonstrated proficiency in handling a myriad of challenges on the red clay of Rome.
Djokovic weathered a dreary drizzle, a three hour rain delay and a dangerous Taylor fritz in his first Internazionali BNL d’Italia match.
The reigning champion Rome overpowered all of these elements in a 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory.
The match was a rematch for Djokovic’s five-set Australian Open victory and although he beat Fritz in his first service match of two sets, Djokovic was challenged by the conditions, which grew faster after the long delay of rain.
The defending champion is operational in Rome! 🇮🇹
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“Well, it was a very strange game with strange conditions,” said Djokovic. “Obviously playing in the rain continuously for almost two full sets is a challenge for me and for him.
“I thought I had an advantage there because the conditions were slower, which allows me to fire his serves, because he really has big serves. So I kind of kept the game under. my control for most of the two sets and then served for very sloppy serve play, he played well, had a great passing shot to come back.
“I was obviously stressed out at the end, but I think it was the right choice to stop the game.”
Djokovic took his Rome record to 56-9. The five-time champion will face British left-hander Cameron Norrie or Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who beat Grigor Dimitrov next.
In his first game since falling to Aslan Karatsev at his hometown tournament in Belgrade last month, Djokovic won 76% of his first serve points and saved five of the seven break points in a one-hour victory. and 39 minutes which included a three hour rain. late with Fritz serving 5-all in the second set.
“When I came back I thought we were completely tied until the last point,” said Djokovic. “I’m glad I managed to finish this game in straight sets. I know I can play better, and I’ll be working tomorrow to try to do that in two days.”
The seed won the toss, chose to serve and scored a solid hold. Djokovic wasted no time pushing Fritz into chase mode. Cutting the drop shot to push the American forward, the reigning champion froze Fritz with a rainbow lob for a double breaking point. When Fritz stuck a backhand in the net, Djokovic got the break early.
As a lingering drizzle turned the red dirt into a slog and inflated Dunlop balls, Djokovic battled a pair of break points in Game 7. The Serbian spread the pitch nicely, stifling the lift to hold 5-2 after 28 minutes.
Attracting the USA forward again, Djokovic took a break when Fritz missed a routine love-30 smash. Fritz widened the deficit with a nice shattering recovery to hold in the eighth game.
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Slipping a serve down the middle, Djokovic danced around a backhand and threw a forehand down the line, closing the 36-minute opener. Djokovic won half of the points played in Fritz’s first serve (7 of 14) in the opener and took his place as the rain intensified a bit.
The Australian Open champion scored eight of the first nine points of the shattering second set for love for 1-0 when Fritz missed the mark with a backhand.
Slippery and slippery on the dirt, Fritz found his balance to play one of his best points of the game. Driving a forehand behind the seed for the break point, Fritz broke for the first time on a Djokovic error, even after four games.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion can mix topspin and sidepin on his forehand to push his opponents towards the perimeter. Djokovic swept the field off with a diagonal forehand, entered the baseline and hit a forehand winner down the line, marking his third serve break for 3-2.
Driving his forehand with damaging intent, Djokovic confirmed the break at 15 for 4-2.
Sweat-and-rain-soaked purple Nike jersey clinging to his skin, Fritz continued to shoot away from the baseline, gaining three break points in Game 8 to see Djokovic deny all three.
Serving the match, Djokovic was eager to beat the rain and his first opponent. Fritz had other ideas.
Leaning low, Fritz threw a running backhand pass over the baseline, breaking for 5-all as festering frustration from lost serve and soggy conditions erupted at Djokovic.
“How much more do you want to play!” Djokovic yelled at the chair umpire as he stood in the drizzle behind the baseline. “I asked you three times that you hadn’t checked anything!”
“Now it’s getting harder and harder, I’m looking at the pitch,” replied the referee, stopping play.
“Getting harder, yeah, that’s it!” Djokovic replied sarcastically.
The game was suspended by the rain and the field team covered the court with a tarp.
The game resumed with Fritz finding a short angle with a forehand to hold for 6-5.
Two points from a final set, Djokovic threw a winning serve and an ace to force the tiebreaker after 90 minutes on court.
In the breaker, Fritz threw a serve on the T before making a backhand for 5-4. Two points from a third set again, Djokovic managed to earn a quality point by working Fritz from corner to corner.
Reading the wide serve, Djokovic hit a clean comeback from the backhand to end a long day into the night. If the seeds remained true to form, Djokovic would face Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas or Madrid runner-up Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals. First of all, of course, he has to overtake Norrie or Davidovich Fokina.