Djokovic behaves better in first match since US Open default

18 Sep 2020

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SPAIN’S Rafael Nadal serves to compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta during their match at the Italian Open.—AFP
SPAIN’S Rafael Nadal serves to compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta during their match at the Italian Open.—AFP

ROME: Novak Djokovic behaved better on Wednesday in his first match since being defaulted from the US Open.

The top-ranked Serb was mostly courteous with the chair umpire and had no interaction with the line judges during a 6-3, 6-2 win over local wild-card entry Salvatore Caruso in his opening match at the Italian Open.

Also on Wednesday, nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal made a solid return to competition after a seven-month absence by beating US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1.

Nadal had not played a match since winning a title in Acapulco, Mexico, in February — having decided not to play the US Open over travel concerns and coronavirus pandemic.

Djokovic’s performance came in sharp contrast to the scene in New York 10 days ago, when he was with a ball.

When the umpire came down to inspect a ball mark on the red clay early in the first set and made an overrule in Caruso’s favor, Djokovic just replied, “Yup,” and rubbed out the mark with his red sneaker.

Djokovic, a four-time Rome champion, next faces fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic, who beat Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-1.

Nadal was in control from the start and closed out the first set with two straight aces, one out wide and one down the T. The match ended in 73 minutes.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion even found a solution to the ban on service from ball kids by bringing not one but two towels to the back of the court on each changeover -- placing one large bath-size version on the box set up for players and the other on an empty line judge’s chair.

Italian wildcard Jannik Sinner pulled off a stunning upset in the second round when he beat third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-7 (9-11), 6-2 to take revenge on the Greek who beat him in straight sets at the same stage last year.

Sinner, 19, led 6-1, 5-2 before Tsitsipas mounted a comeback and saved match points in the tiebreak, but Sinner clinched the decider as Tsitsipas racked up 58 unforced errors in the contest.

Sinner will next face Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who eased past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-1, 6-0.

Rome resident Matteo Berrettini defeated Argentina Federico Coria 7-5, 6-1; and wild-card entry Stefano Travaglia eliminated US Open quarter-finalist Borna Coric 7-6 (7-2), 7-5 in a solid day for the host nation.

Also, Marin Cilic beat sixth-seeded David Goffin 6-2, 6-2.

Top women’s seed Simona Halep returned a month after winning in Prague to ease past 99th-ranked Italian Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-4.

US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka shrugged off the move from hard court to the clay surface to beat American Venus Williams 7-6 (9-7), 6-2, in their first round match.

Swiss sixth seed Belinda Bencic fell 6-3, 6-1 in her second round match to Montenegro’s 86th-ranked Danka Kovinic and defending champion Karolina Pliskova eliminated fellow Czech player Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-3.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2020