Djokovic Fights For ‘Solid’ Three-Set Win Over Dimitrov To Reach Italian Open Quarter-Final
Novak Djokovic continued his bid for a seventh Italian Open crown as he beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 4-6 6-1 to reach the last 16. The top seed was a set and a break up before Dimitrov launched a spirited comeback to force a decider, but Djokovic’s firepower proved too much. The Serbian will face British No. 1 Cameron Norrie next as his title defence continues.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic faced a tough battle to reach the Italian Open last 16 as he defeated Grigor Dimitrov in three sets to continue his bid for a seventh Rome title.
The top seed clinched a 6-3 4-6 6-1 win in two hours and 19 minutes and will face British No. 1 Cameron Norrie next as he continues to build fitness and form ahead of the French Open later this month.
Djokovic will bid for an outright record 23rd Grand Slam in Paris, but his focus this week is on shaking off recent injury troubles and continuing his remarkable record in the Eternal City.
The 35-year-old has never failed to make it to the quarter-finals in 16 previous appearances at the ATP Masters 1000 event and remains on course to continue that run in 2023.
However, it wasn’t plain sailing for the Serbian on centre court as Dimitrov came back from a set and a break down to force a decider before his resistance finally gave way.
“[I was] very solid. I think I could have won in straight sets,” said Djokovic.
“I was a set and 4-2 up and had a pretty decent forehand in the middle of the court at deuce on his serve and missed that. He held his serve well, we had new balls the next game, I did a double fault, the crowd got into it and got behind him and of course the energy of the place and of the match changed.
“I dropped my level a bit, but luckily I managed find it right away in the first game [of the third set], made that crucial break and kind of shifted the momentum to my side, so I’m really pleased with the way I closed out the match.”
Both players produced seven aces in a fiercely-contested clash and Dimitrov landed 28 winners to Djokovic’s 21, but the Bulgarian’s tally of 23 unforced errors, more than double the top seed’s 10, proved costly.
Djokovic came into the encounter with a commanding 10-1 record over Dimitrov, but their head-to-head on clay was 1-1.
The Serbian, who wasn’t wearing the supportive sleeve on his right arm that he used in Friday’s second-round win over Tomas Martin Etcheverry, got off to a calamitous start by double-faulting the opening point before two more unforced errors helped hand Dimitrov an opening break to love.
However, the world No. 1 – who will cede top spot to Carlos Alcaraz when the rankings are updated after the tournament in Rome – dusted himself down and bounced back by winning the next four games, breaking Dimitrov twice.
Djokovic had to find some big serves to save three break points at 3-1, while Dimitrov fought hard to fend off four set points at 5-3 and hold a 10-minute game, but he couldn’t find the subsequent break that he needed.
The Serbian got off to a strong start in the second set as he set up two break points at 1-1 and took the second as the Bulgarian put a poor backhand in the net.
Dimitrov stuck with it, seeing off another break point at 3-2, and he was rewarded for his tenacity when he earned three break points and took the first to level things at 4-4.
Djokovic was furious that a shot from his opponent hadn’t been called as out, and Hawk-eye technology suggested he was right, but the decision stood.
Dimitrov stayed strong on serve and then pushed on to complete an impressive second-set turnaround, coming back from a set and a break down to level up the match by breaking Djokovic again for a 6-4 scoreline.
Adversity brought the best out of the 22-time Grand Slam winner, though, as he immediately earned an advantage over Dimitrov in the opening game of the decider when the Bulgarian double-faulted on break point.
Djokovic took firm control of the match when he broke again in game five for a 4-1 lead, roaring in celebration as his opponent’s shot flew wide of the tramlines.
Dimitrov saved two match points at 5-1, the first with an ace, but couldn’t repeat the feat on a third as a forehand flew wide to seal a Djokovic-dominated 38-minute decider.