ROME — Novak Djokovic was tested by 61st-ranked Tomas Martin Etcheverry in a 7-6 (5), 6-2 opening win at the Italian Open on Friday.
Aiming for a seventh title on the red clay of the Foro Italico as he prepares for the French Open, Djokovic twice had to recover from deficits during a tight first set.
Djokovic was returning after three weeks off due to a lingering issue with his surgically repaired right elbow.
In his previous two tournaments on red clay, Djokovic had consecutive early exits.
He lost in the round of 16 at Monte Carlo to Lorenzo Musetti. Then Dusan Lajovic beat him in the quarterfinals of the Srpska Open in Bosnia and Herzegovina, dealing him his first loss to a fellow Serbian in 11 years.
After his serve was broken in the opening game of the match – after which he put a black sleeve on over his right elbow – Djokovic fell behind 3-1 before eventually getting back on serve.
Djokovic had two set points on Etcheverry’s serve at 5-4 in the first but the Argentine produced two big serves that Djokovic couldn’t return.
Then Etcheverry took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker before Djokovic again rallied back – this time taking control for good.
At Roland Garros, Djokovic will be attempting to add to his total of 22 Grand Slam titles and break a tie for the record with Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, who holds the record of 10 titles in Rome, is not playing as he remains hampered by a nagging hip injury, leaving his status for Roland Garros in question.
While it was up and down at the start, there were also moments of vintage Djokovic. Like when he produced a delicate forehand stop volley winner to conclude a long rally midway through the first set, after which he pumped his fist and motioned with his arms for the crowd to cheer louder.
Etcheverry, who reached clay finals in Santiago and Houston this year, also impressed when he hit a tweener shot between his legs early in the second set, to which Djokovic replied with a volley that landed in the net – prompting him to grin as he shook his head.
Djokovic was unhappy with the condition of the clay on Campo Centrale and he told the chair umpire at one point during the first set that the court was an “absolute disaster.”
“Every bounce is different. It seems like there’s too much clay. A half meter in, half meter out,” Djokovic said as workers smoothed the court out.
Djokovic’s third-round opponent will be Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-6 (3).
In the same half of the draw…
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