Four-time champion Novak Djokovic persisted past a confident clay-court player on Tuesday during his Internazionali BNL d'Italia opener, beating British qualifier Aljaz Bedene 7-6(2), 6-2 on Court Centrale in Rome.
Djokovic is coming off his best result at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament this season, a semi-final run at the Mutua Madrid Open last week (l. to eventual champion Nadal). But the World No. 2 had to overcome some early rust against Bedene, who has enjoyed his best stretch on clay during recent months, including a final run at the inaugural Gazprom Hungarian Open in Budapest last month.
The Serbian was broken at the start of the match, but quickly recovered Bedene's advantage. They both held serve until the tie-break, when Djokovic outplayed the British No. 3 Bedene, who netted a forehand to conclude the 56-minute opener.
Djokovic then broke Bedene again to start the second set, coming through in a 13-point game that finished when Bedene couldn't handle a return of serve from the Serbian. The 29-year-old Djokovic clinched his fourth match point opportunity when Bedene sailed a forehand long after one hour and 46 minutes.
“A little bit of a slower start, but Bedene is the kind of player that gives you good rhythm. I had some good exchanges, some good games with rallies and it felt right, especially in the second set. I played a great tie- break. Served very well when I needed to,” Djokovic said. “I just wish that I had started a little bit sharper. But hopefully the next one will be good.”
Bedene, in addition to reaching the Budapest final on clay, also won back-to-back ATP Challenger Tour titles on clay last month. Djokovic, who won the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Rome in 2008, '11, '14-15, will meet one of two Spaniards in the third round, 15th seed Pablo Carreno Busta or Roberto Bautista Agut.
Carreno Busta evened his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Frenchman Gilles Simon at 2-2 with a 6-3, 6-3 victory. The 25-year-old Carreno Busta won 76 per cent of his first-serve points in the 75-minute first-round win.
Bautista Agut broke lucky loser Alexandr Dolgopolov four times to advance 6-4, 6-2. Dolgopolov, who won the Argentina Open title on clay in February (d. Nishikori), replaced Aussie Nick Kyrgios in the main draw. Kyrgios withdrew because of a hip injury, the same injury that forced him to withdraw from doubles last week in Madrid.
Frenchman Benoit Paire and third seed Stan Wawrinka will meet for the 11th time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series after Paire advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over countryman Nicolas Mahut. Paire, who beat Wawrinka in three sets last week in Madrid, converted four of his eight break points against Mahut to advance in 62 minutes.
American John Isner struck 21 aces to move into the third round 7-6(4), 7-6(4) against German Florian Mayer.