ROME: Novak Djokovic made a winning return nearly a month after suffering a wrist injury, starting the Rome Masters on a rainy Tuesday with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Radek Stepanek.
The second-round victory after a bye was the first match for the world number two Serb since losing a Monte Carlo semi-final on April 19 to Roger Federer while suffering with his right wrist problem.
Djokovic, a two-time champion at the Foro Italico, was to have played last week in Madrid but held off. He won in Rome with new coach Boris Becker looking on.
The Serb, who is competing in Rome for an eighth straight year, won his 25th match here against five defeats. Three of his losses have come against Nadal, the top seed bidding for an eighth trophy in the capital.
The end against Stepanek was a struggle, comprising four consecutive breaks of serve before Djokovic took victory with a service return winner out wide after 97 minutes.
In men’s first-round play, a pair of Colombians both retired. Croatian Marin Cilic advanced over Santiago Giraldo 6-4, 2-0 while Ernests Gulbis took a 6-1 defeat of Alejandro Falla.
In first-round women’s play, Italian wild-card entry Camila Giorgi upset ninth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) in a match delayed briefly due to rain, and 10th-seeded Sara Errani of Italy eliminated Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa 7-5, 6-3.
The 22-year-old Giorgi, who reached the round of 16 at the US Open last year as a qualifier, showed off her attacking game, stepping into the court to whip winners into the corners at every opportunity.
Making her Rome main-draw debut, Giorgi had loud support on the picturesque Pietrangeli court, which is lined with neo-classical statues.
“The pressure is positive. It’s great that the fans come to see you,” Giorgi said. “Playing at home happens only once per year.”
In an upset on Monday, 13th-seeded Fabio Fognini, the top Italian hope, left the court to jeers from the spectators after he was handily beaten by 56th-ranked Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2.
Meanwhile, 11th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saved two set points in the second set before eliminating Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) and fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon beat local wild card Filippo Volandri 6-2, 6-3.
In the women’s tournament, Australian Samantha Stosur upset 15th-seeded Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 6-3 while American 16th seed Sloane Stephens rallied past Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Venus Williams, the 1999 champion, cruised past Annika Beck of Germany 6-3, 6-1 and 12th-seeded Flavia Pennetta got past Yvonne Meusburger of Austria, 6-2, 6-3.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.