The 22-time Grand Slam champion overcame a mid-match falter on Sunday before claiming a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Grigor Dimitrov to reach the round of 16 of the Italian Open.
Troubled by decisions on the difficulty of playing on the Campo Centrale surface and lines, Djokovic lost four straight games to drop the second set to Dimitrov, who scored 12 straight points during that period.
But Djokovic responded at a crucial moment, breaking Dimitrov in the first game of the third set, leaving him with an 11–1 record against the Bulgarian.
“The public got into the sport and supported it. With the energy of the place, the sport turned”, Djokovic said. “My level dropped a bit. But I knew how to fix it immediately in the first game, I got a crucial break and the game was back in my favour. I am very happy with the way I closed the match.
Returning to the tour after three weeks without playing due to an illness in his right elbow, Djokovic is going for a seventh title in Rome. He also wants to be fit to play the French Open, which starts in two weeks.
Serbian star Djokovic had made early exits in his last two clay court tournaments. Such results made him the world number one after this tournament, handing it back to Carlos Alcaraz.
Earlier in the day, defending two-time champion Iga Swiatek beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0 on Sunday to reach the round of 16 and extend her winning streak to 13 at the Foro Italico.
Swiatek, who beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-0 in her debut after getting a second-round bye, dropped just two games in four sets.
The world number one recorded 22 winners against Tsurenko’s two.
Swiatek said, “All I’m trying to do is stay consistent. I approach all my matches like they’re finals.”
After the match, Tsurenko praised Swiatek, a pole in the net. “It was a nice gesture and I appreciate it. But there is nothing to be grateful for, because it is clear to me that we must remain in solidarity with Ukraine. I will do so until the war ends.” May it not happen.”
If she repeats as champion, Swiatek will emulate Chris Evert and Conchita Martinez as the third woman to win three consecutive titles in Rome.
In the next round, Swiatek would face the winner of the duel between Lyudmila Samsonova and Donna Vekic, playing the latter.
Another who progressed on the red clay of Rome was Marketa Vondrousova, the runner-up at the French Open in 2019. The Czech defeated Greek Maria Sakkari (9th) 7-5, 6-3.
American Madison Keys advanced to the round of 16 after Victoria Azarenka of Belarus withdrew before the match with a right foot injury.
In the men’s draw, seventh seed Holger Rune of Denmark kept his composure as he played against the crowd to see off veteran Italian Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-2.
Daniil Medvedev beat Finn Emil Roussvuori 6-4, 6-2 for his first win in Rome. The Russian had lost on the first change in his three previous appearances at the Forum.
Also, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas needed just two games to seal a 6-3, 6-3 win over Portugal’s Nuno Borges, a second-round match that was postponed on Saturday due to rain.