ROME, Italy, May 14 – Novak Djokovic got off to a winning start in his bid for a fifth ATP Italian Open title on Monday with a straight sets win over Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov as he gears up for the French Open in two weeks time.
The 11th-seeded Serb, who has reached eight of the last ten finals in Rome and won four — took 55 minutes to oust Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-3 on the red clay of the Foro Italico.
Former world number one Djokovic has slipped six places to 18th after his second round defeat in Madrid, his lowest ranking since October 2006.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner broke 54th-ranked Dolgopolov three times in the opening set, with another break in the second helping him wrap up the match.
“Today’s match is encouraging and gives me reason to believe I can go all the way, but at the same time I have to be modest” said Djokovic who has been battling his way back from elbow surgery.
“The conditions here are pretty suitable to my game. In 2008 it was one of the first titles I won and I always play well in Rome.”
Djokovic, who last won in Rome in 2015, next plays either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Filippo Baldi two qualifiers before a potential third round meeting with American eighth seed John Isner.
And the 30-year-old said his focus was on the French Open where he won his last Grand Slam title in 2016.
“The French Open is where I want to play my best tennis that is one big goal for this part of the season. I feel I’m going in the right direction.”
– Nishikori back winning –
Earlier Japan’s Kei Nishikori eased into the men’s second round with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 win over Spaniard Feliciano Lopez as Italy’s Roberta Vinci bowed out of her final WTA tournament with a first round defeat.
Former US Open finalist Vinci fell 2-6, 6-0, 6-3 to Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic.
The 35-year-old reached the US Open final in 2010 and won ten singles title in her career spanning nearly two decades.
Nishikori — who had lost his two matches on clay in Spain in the previous two weeks — needed 1hr 48min to hand Lopez his sixth defeat in seven trips to the Italian capital.
“It wasn’t an easy match. It was windy so conditions were tough for both of us,” said 24th-ranked Nishikori, who hit 18 winners to counter the seven aces fired down by Lopez.
Nishikori arrived in Rome after losing his two matches on clay in Spain — retiring in Barcelona due to a recurring wrist injury problem before losing his opening-round in Madrid to Djokovic.
“He used a lot of slice and great serves, but I think I handled his slice well,” continued Nishikori who won his last title in Memphis in February 2016.
“The first set could have gone both ways, luckily I got it and after that, I was more confident and I was playing better tennis.”
Nishikori took a one-set lead after a first set-tiebreak that featured nine mini-breaks.
The pair exchanged serves in the second set before 2016 semi-finalist Nishikori broke again and served out to love to book his place in the second-round where he meets third seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.
Robin Haase of the Netherlands needed three sets to get past Russian Daniil Medvedev 3-6, 6-4, 6-,1 with ninth seed Davis Goffin of Belgium seeing off Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 6-1, 6-2.
In the women’s event, Japan’s Naomi Osaka powered her way past former world number one Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-0, 6-3 to set up a meeting with top seed Simona Halep of Romania.
American Madison Keys, seeded 13th, beat Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-1, with Britain’s Johanna Konta easing past Slovak 17th-seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-3.