Novak Djokovic overcame second-set frustration with a high-class third-set showing on Sunday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where he overcame Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 in Rome.
The top seed and defending champion had appeared set for a routine third-round victory when he led Dimitrov by a set and a break at 6-3, 4-2. An inspired run of four games from the Bulgarian forced a decider at the Foro Italico, but Djokovic expertly raised his level to reach the fourth round with his 1050th tour-level victory.
“[I was] very solid. I think I could have won in straight sets,” said Djokovic. “I was a set and 4-2 up and had a pretty decent forehand in the middle of the court at deuce on his serve and missed that. He held his serve well, we had new balls the next game, I did a double fault, the crowd got into it and got behind him and of course the energy of the place and the of the match changed.
“I dropped my level a bit, but luckily I managed find it right away in the first game [of the third set], made that crucial break and kind of shifted the momentum to my side, so I’m really pleased with the way I closed out the match.”
With his two-hour, 20-minute win, Djokovic improved to 11-1 in his ATP Head2Head series against Dimitrov. The 35-year-old will next take on 13th seed Cameron Norrie, a 6-2, 7-6(4) winner against Marton Fucsovics, as he bids to reach the quarter-finals for the 17th time in as many appearances in Rome.
“Luckily for me in my career I managed to win more matches than those that I lost when I was facing difficult circumstances,” said Djokovic when asked about his ability to produce his best under pressure. “I also lost a lot of matches, particularly in the beginning of my career. For a few years, whenever I needed to make that final step or win a Slam, I didn’t manage to do that, so I learned a lot.
“I got stronger because of the rivalries, particularly with [Roger] Federer, [Rafael] Nadal and [Andy] Murray. Just staying the course, staying patient and believing in the process and the journey… Understanding what works for you best, what’s your winning formula mentally and also physically and emotionally, and then sticking to it.”
Djokovic made a sluggish start for the second match in a row at the clay-court ATP Masters 1000, where he was broken to love in the first game by the 26th seed Dimitrov. However, just as he did against Tomas Martin Etcheverry in his opening match, the Serbian responded in style. He reeled off four games in a row en route to a first set in which he made just three unforced errors.
Despite letting slip his dominant position in the second set, the decider saw Djokovic return to the level that he has frequently shown in Rome across his career. Striking cleanly off both wings and offering few short balls for Dimitrov to attack, he broke the Bulgarian’s serve three times to complete his win and improve to 66-10 in the Italian capital.
Holger Rune remains a potential quarter-final opponent for Djokovic after the seventh-seeded Dane raced past home favourite Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-2 earlier on Sunday.
The Rome debutant Rune converted four of his eight break points to advance after 77 minutes and improve to 24-9 for the 2023 season. The 20-year-old is chasing his second Masters 1000 crown after he beat Djokovic to lift the title at the Rolex Paris Masters last November. His fourth-round opponent will be Alexei Popyrin, the Australian qualifier who defeated Roman Safiullin 7-5, 7-5.
Moves to 2-0 in Head2Head & onto the R16@holgerrune2003 manages the match up & the partisan crowd
See👇for #Insights from both todays match & their previous match 📊 V 📊#TennisInsights | @atptour | @InteBNLdItalia pic.twitter.com/z93cOaHb4r
— Tennis Insights (@tennis_insights) May 14, 2023