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Italian Open: Novak Djokovic, Cameron Norrie & Iga Swiatek make winning starts

Novak Djokovic stretches for a ball at the 2023 Italian Open

Six-time champion Djokovic has won 65 of his 75 matches in Rome and never failed to reach the quarter-finals in 16 appearances

Novak Djokovic marked his return from injury with a hard-fought second-round victory over talented Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry at the Italian Open.

Serbia’s Djokovic, who missed the recent Madrid Open with an elbow injury, won 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

The defending champion is aiming for a seventh title in Rome, where he has never lost before the quarter-finals.

British number one Cameron Norrie beat France’s Alexandre Muller 6-2 6-3 to reach the third round.

Norrie, 27, will play Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, who won 6-3 6-4 against Australia’s 17th seed Alex de Minaur, on Sunday.

Djokovic, who turns 36 this month, faces Bulgaria’s 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov, a 6-4 7-6 (7-3) winner against 2008 champion Stan Wawrinka.

In only his fifth match of the clay-court season, top seed Djokovic overcame a tricky start against 23-year-old Etcheverry.

Despite seeming unwell and describing the court as an “absolute disaster” because there was “too much clay”, Djokovic fought back from 3-0 and 5-3 down in the first-set tie-break.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion’s level increased in the second set and he broke 61st-ranked Etcheverry’s serve twice.

“I’m still not at desired level, still finding my shots and finding my groove on the court,” Djokovic, who will be replaced by Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz as the world number one after the tournament, told Amazon Prime.

“I started pretty slow but I found my groove towards the end of the first. The second set was good, particularly the last three or four games.

“I was happy with how I closed out the match.”

What else happened in Rome?

In the women’s draw, world number one Iga Swiatek thrashed Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0 6-0.

Poland’s Swiatek, who won the Rome title in 2021 and 2022, will face Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko after beating 2021 French Open runner-up Pavlyuchenkova in only 67 minutes.

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina bounced back from losing her opening match in Madrid to progress to the third round.

The 23-year-old from Kazakhstan, ranked sixth in the world, won 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 against Italy’s Jasmine Paolini.

Tunisian fourth seed Ons Jabeur lost 6-1 6-4 to Spain’s Paula Badosa in her first match since injuring a calf last month.

Home favourite and men’s eighth seed Jannik Sinner beat Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-1 6-4.

The 21-year-old Italian, who will face Russia’s Alexander Shevchenko in the last 32, did…

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