ROME: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic swept into the Italian Open quarterfinals 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 semifinal 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 quarterfinals 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 organization 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.
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.