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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 14, 2023


World No. 1 Novak Djokovic won the final four games defeating Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 for his milestone 1,050th career victory in Rome.

Photo credit: Alex Pantling/Getty

Turnaround tremors struck the Foro Italico today.

Dropping 12 points in a row and the second set to Grigor Dimitrov, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic lost his focus and seemed on shaky soil.

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Smacking his racquet off the soles of his shoes to loosen clumps of clay, Djokovic stomped out the uprising unleashing precision to extend progression.

Defending Rome champion Djokovic reeled off the final four games defeating Dimitrov 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 for his milestone 1,050th career victory.

"Of course, playing Grigor is always a challenge," Djokovic told the media in Rome. "I know that he's going to deliver his quality. He is one of the most talented players on the tour, without a doubt, for many years.

"Towards the end of the second set, he showed what he's capable of. He started to raise the level. He obviously had a good support of the crowd. The momentum shifted to his side. I was set and 4-2 up, had chances to close out the match, but I didn't.

"I was very pleased that I managed to kind of find again the right rhythm in the first game of the third set right away. That was super important to make a break early and kind of hold things under control, which is what happened."

Continuing his quest for a seventh Rome title, Djokovic raised his 2023 record to 19-3.

The top-seeded Djokovic scored his 66th career Rome win—second only to rival Rafa Nadal (69 wins)—on the all-time tournament victory list. Djokovic will face either 13th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie or Marton Fucsovics for a trip to his 17th Rome quarterfinal in as many appearances.

In a horror-show start, Djokovic littered the court with errors gifting Dimitrov the love break to open.

That jarring start jolted Djokovic into focus as he won four games in a row for a 4-1 lead.

Djokovic served 70 percent and pumped seven aces, including smacking an ace down the middle to seal the 44-minute opening set.

Working the width of the court with some sharp-angled crosscourt backhands, Djokovic belted a backhand winner holding for a 3-1 second set lead. Djokovic had a break point chance to go up 4-1, but Dimitrov denied it.

Former world No. 3 Dimitrov roared through 12 consecutive points going up love-30 on Djokovic's serve.

The Serbian superstar levelled only to see the Bulgarian snap a brilliant running backhand pass down the line for set point.

When Djokovic floated an error, Dimitrov snatched the second set with a shout forcing a third set after 100 minutes of play.

Contesting just his sixth clay-court match of the year, Djokovic showed no signs of stress pushed to a third set 

Resetting, Djokovic won a draining 25-shot rally for break point to start the final set. When Dimitrov hit his fourth double fault, Djokovic grabbed the break.

The reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion wasted little time stretching his lead.

Djokovic charged through eight of his next nine service points extending to 3-1. The combination of Djokovic's inside-out forehand to open the court and inside-in forehand to finish with snazzy strikes down the line helped him score his second straight break for 4-1.

The 35-year-old Serbian superstar scored his first Rome three-set win since his 2021 semifinal victory over Lorenzo Sonego in two hours, 20 minutes. Djokovic's ninth straight victory over Dimitrov improves his career advantage to 11-1 against the world No. 33.

Aiming to peak for a run at Roland Garros and men's record 23rd Grand Slam crown, Djokovic said his level is rising match-by-match.

"I think I'm getting closer to the desired level," Djokovic said. "Of course, you can always play better, but today I had a really good quality opponent and I think I delivered for most part of the match except the last four games of the second set.

"Other than that I think I was really solid, served well, moved well. When I had opportunities, I was capitalizing on those opportunities.

"Just overall a really solid performance and definitely a better level than in the first match. Hopefully I can keep the same trajectory in the next one."

Self-described "hard-court specialist" Daniil Medvedev dug in to overcome a love-3 deficit and defeat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4, 6-2.

Miami Open champion Medvedev will meet Spaniard Bernabe Zapata Miralles next.

US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe rallied past German qualifier Daniel Altmaier 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that began yesterday and resumed today with the German leading 6-3, 3-4.

The 12th-seeded Tiafoe earned his first career Rome victory to set up a meeting with Italian shotmaker Lorenzo Musetti. Earlier, Musetti swept wild card 6-4, 6-4.

"He's really a tricky player. He can play incredible tennis," Musetti told Tennis Channel's Prakash Amritraj of Tiafoe. "We faced each other many times and we had really, really nice battles and hopefully tomorrow will be the same.

"But I will say that for sure the crowd will give me the extra motivation to do better."

Monte-Carlo finalist Holger Rune withstood former Monte-Carlo champion Fabio Fognini and Italian fans 6-4, 6-2.

The seventh-seeded Rune will face Aussie qualifier Alexei Popyrin next.  


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