Djokovic sweeps into Italian Open quarters in front of 'great' Rome crowd
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns a forehand to Spain's Alejandro Davidovich during their match of the Men's Italian Open at Foro Italico in Rome, Italy. AFP
World number one Novak Djokovic swept into the Italian Open quarter-finals on Thursday with a straight-sets win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in front of spectators at the Foro Italico.
The five-time Rome champion won 6-2, 6-1 in 70 minutes against the 48th-ranked Spaniard, with the venue filled to 25 percent of capacity for the first time amid the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
"It was not good, it was great. I missed the crowd," said the 33-year-old, who next plays Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of last year's French Open semi-final which the Serbian won.
Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes.
"It always feels like home coming back to Rome," said Djokovic, who has never failed to reach the quarter-finals in his 15 appearances in the clay-court event.
"Honestly, with the amount of love and appreciation that I get and respect from people here, not just on the court, but outside in the organisation here, from the drivers, the restaurant, people in hotel, everyone is really super kind to me.
"Maybe it helps that I speak Italian. Probably does. I love Italy. Who doesn't?
"Each year the love affair grows even more because the bond is stronger and stronger.
"Hopefully I can feel a little bit of that love more tomorrow so I can keep on progressing in the tournament."
After losing his opening service game, Djokovic powered back with five breaks of serve, outclassing his rival, despite a late fightback, to seal the win on his sixth match point.
"He started well, but I managed to break back straight away and establish the control and consistency," said the 18-time Grand Slam winner.
"I thought I played at least 20-30 percent better than on Monday. I am on a good trajectory and hopefully tomorrow will be even better."
'Not yet normal'
Djokovic has a 4-2 winning head-to-head record against Monte Carlo champion Tsitsipas who knocked out Madrid Open runner-up Berrettini.
"I hope to do better this time," said Tsitsipas, who lost a five-set marathon to Djokovic at Roland Garros last year.
Djokovic has won his past seven quarter-finals in Rome, with an 11-3 record in the last eight. Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals in Rome in 2019.
American Reilly Opelka also advanced to his second Masters 1000 quarter-final with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 victory against in-form Russian Aslan Karatsev.
The 23-year-old hit 18 aces and saved two set points at 4/6 in the first-set tie-break to set up a meeting with either Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime or Argentinian Federico Delbonis in the last eight.
Meanwhile, fans were happy to return after more than a year without live sport.
"After all this time it's good to be able to watch live sport," said Alessandro Cimini, one of the first to arrive at the Foro Italico with his son to watch Djokovic followed by Rafael Nadal in action.
"We bought tickets in January 2020 and we can finally come! On the one hand I'm happy it feels good after all we've been through even if obviously it's not yet back to normal on centre court," added another tennis fan, Rosy De Luigi, who travelled from San Marino.
The football Italian Cup final in Reggio Emilio next Wednesday will also have a limited crowd, followed by Euro 2020 matches at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.