By Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent
Novak Djokovic made a winning return to action at the Italian Open despite complaining about the state of the court and appearing to be feeling a little under the weather.
While the absent Rafael Nadal remains the main injury concern ahead of the French Open, Djokovic sat out the Madrid Open because of a right elbow problem.
He still had strapping on the joint during his second-round clash with Argentina’s Tomas Etcheverry in Rome and had to battle hard to win a long first set before pulling away to triumph 7-6 (5) 6-2.
– Nole, can I get an autograph?
– Sure, what’s your name?#IBI23 pic.twitter.com/9JFWQlshUx
— Internazionali BNL d’Italia (@InteBNLdItalia) May 12, 2023
Djokovic, who will be overtaken as world number one by Carlos Alcaraz a week on Monday, dropped serve in the opening game and, although he quickly fought back, he was unhappy about the number of bad bounces.
The 35-year-old also seemed to be troubled by his stomach and he missed two set points at 4-5 before trailing 3-0 and 5-3 in the tie-break.
Etcheverry could not finish the job, though, and, with Roma boss Jose Mourinho among those watching from the stands, Djokovic was able to breathe much more easily after winning the final four points of the tie-break.
Speaking afterwards on Amazon Prime Video, he said: “I’m still not at the desired level, finding the shots, finding that groove on the court.
“It’s always a little bit tricky playing someone for the first time, he’s a clay-court specialist and he started better than I did. The second set was good, especially the last three or four games. I’m happy with the way I closed out that match.”
On his complaints about the court, he said: “Every second bounce is uneven, the court is not in a great state, but you’ve got to deal with that, you’ve got to accept the conditions the way they are and try to make the most out of it.”
Earlier, Cameron Norrie eased into the third round of the Italian Open with a 6-2 6-3 victory over French qualifier Alexandre Muller, while defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek was in ruthless form.
British number one Norrie has yet to really catch fire on the European clay so far this season, winning one match each in Barcelona and Madrid and losing his first encounter in Monte-Carlo.
Cam’s clay confidence ⚡️#BackTheBrits 🇬🇧 | @cam_norrie pic.twitter.com/5VyKGJGnGf
— LTA (@the_LTA) May 12, 2023
While this was a match Norrie would certainly have expected to win, the manner of his success was particularly encouraging, with the 27-year-old facing only one break point and taking his own chances confidently.
Next the 13th seed will face Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who upset Australian Alex De Minaur 6-3 6-4.
Djokovic meets Grigor Dimitrov, who saw off Stan Wawrinka, while there were victories for Casper Ruud, Holger Rune and popular Italian duo Jannik Sinner and Fabio Fognini.
Performance of the day, though, came from world number one Swiatek, who responded to her Madrid Open final loss to Aryna Sabalenka by thumping former French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0 6-0.
Swiatek lost on her Rome debut in 2020 to Arantxa Rus but is now on a 12-match winning streak in the Italian capital.
“When I’m playing these kind of matches, I’m just trying to be focused,” the Pole told reporters. “I’m trying to remember what got me this nice score, what I should do to continue playing that well.”
Fourth seed Ons Jabeur, who lost to Swiatek in the final last year, was beaten 6-1 6-4 by Paula Badosa on her return from injury, while ninth seed Maria Sakkari defeated Barbora Strycova – who is back on tour after maternity leave – 6-1 6-3.