Tomas Martin Etcheverry proved to be a real test for world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the opening set of their clash at the Italian Open, but there was only so long the Argentine could live with his opponent, who cruised through the second. For Djokovic, this was briefly a stern test with a tie-break having to come between the pair, but he eventually found his rhythm to demonstrate his class.
Novak Djokovic had to battle through a sluggish opening set via a tie-break, but he then accelerated away from Tomas Martin Etcheverry to progress through to the third round at the Italian Open on Friday evening.
The world No. 1 boasts a staggering career record in Rome having never failed to reach the quarter-finals in 16 appearances, and he was eventually pretty comfortable in sealing his place in the next round with a 7-6(5) 6-2 win at the ATP Masters 1000 event.
Etcheverry certainly put up a strong resistance in the first set while Djokovic helped to make it an unpredictable contest with a very surprising 21 unforced errors thrown into the mix with his normally impeccable groundstrokes.
The 35-year-old, who is targeting an outright record 23rd Grand Slam singles title at Roland-Garros later this month to pull away from his great rival Rafael Nadal, is continuing his preparations for Paris on the red dirt.
Etcheverry quickly showed that this would be no procession for the defending champion as he immediately broke Djokovic in his first game. The Argentine raced out of the blocks to set up two break points, and while the Serbian saved the first, a wayward backhand surrendered the second.
Djokovic, wearing a black sleeve to support his right elbow, threatened to strike back straight away, but Etcheverry saved a break point with a confident serve-and-volley before clinching an important hold.
The top seed eventually found a route back into the set in game six when Etcheverry went for a forehand winner down the line but sent it just wide on break point, levelling things up at 3-3.
Djokovic was given another scare as he found himself 5-3 down in the tie-break with the Rome crowd certainly invested in the encounter at that stage. But four points on the bounce for the Serb saw him seize control of the breaker, the set and the match.
There was a point when the top seed looked to be in physical trouble as he found himself hunched over at the business end of the opening set, but once he got into his swing in the second it was relatively easy going.
After one hour and 51 minutes, Djokovic had sealed his place in the third round where he will take on fellow veteran Grigor Dimitrov, the 26th seed, who defeated Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets, 6-4 7-6(3) to progress.
“Still not the desired level, still finding the shots and finding that groove on the court,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“It’s always a little bit tricky playing someone for the first time. He’s a clay-court specialist. He started better than I did, I started pretty slow, but I found my groove towards the end of the first. The second set was good, especially the last three or four games. I’m happy with the way I closed out the match.
“You act like you’re 100 per cent. Most of the time 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.”
Dimitrov may secretly feel a bit sheepish about his 1-10 head-to-head record against Djokovic, but the world No. 33 Dimitrov still claims that he enjoys coming up against the very best players in the world.
“I like those matches,” he said. “I’ve been on tour for so long, I feel comfortable to play against these guys.
“I know I don’t have the best record against him, but I like to play against him and any of the top guys to see where I’m at.
“You never know how it’s going to go at the end of the day. I always like my chances, so you never know how it’s going to go.”