ROME: Novak Djokovic reached the last 16 of the Italian Open on Sunday after winning a battle with Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, while blistering Iga Swiatek thrashed Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0.
Six-time Rome champion Djokovic initially looked in improved form compared to his sluggish tournament opener against Tomas Etcheverry but again had a fight on his hands against the former world No. 3
“I think I’m getting close to the desired level. You can always play better but today I had a really good quality opponent and I think I delivered,” Djokovic told reporters.
No longer wearing the elbow brace he had in Friday’s second round match, Djokovic looked to have shaken off the injury which forced him to miss last week’s Madrid Masters.
The 22-time Grand Slam title winner lost his serve in the first game of the match but broke back immediately and in game four broke again to tip the first set in his favor.
Djokovic served out to take the lead and in game three of the second set broke former world No. 3 Dimitrov, who handed the initiative to the Serb with a weak backhand into the net.
However, Dimitrov leveled the set at 4-4 with a break of his own, angering Djokovic who was convinced that the shot which won the game was long, and drew huge roars from the Foro Italico crowd when he claimed the set.
However, Djokovic has reached at least the quarterfinals in each of his 16 appearances in Rome and a powerful third set display ensured his passage into the fourth round.
“I was very happy to find the right rhythm in the first game of first set... That was super important to make a break early and hold things under control,” said Djokovic.
Losing finalist in Madrid last weekend, Swiatek looked again in imperious form as she breezed into the last 16 of the women’s draw.
The 21-year-old is trying for her third straight Rome title and made light work of Tsurenko after a slightly bumpy start.
Swiatek lost the first two games but then rattled off 12 in a row in a powerful demonstration of why she is world number one and favorite to defend her Roland Garros title.
“I’m just trying to be consistent and trying to play my game. I treat every match as a final, I try to have the right mindset,” said Swiatek on court.
Swiatek now faces either Donna Vekic or Ljudmila Samsonova in the fourth round after extending her winning streak in the Italian capital to 13 matches.
Her bid for a Rome hat trick will be helped by six of the world’s top 10 women players being eliminated early.
Fifth-ranked Coco Gauff of the US was defeated by Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. It was Bouzkova’s third career Top 5 win but first on clay.
Also heading for the exit was world No. 8 Maria Sakkari who was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Marketa Vondrousova.
Gauff and Sakkari join world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, third-ranked Jessica Pegula, world No. 4 Caroline Garcia and seventh ranked Ons Jabeur in being dumped out of the tournament.
Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka withdrew with a right leg injury handing Madison Keys of the US a free pass into the last 16.
Daniil Medvedev won his first ever match in Rome, 6-4, 6-2 against Emil Ruusuvuori, the former US Open champion winning a second round match which was postponed to Sunday due to the torrential rain which hit the Italian capital on Saturday.
In much balmier conditions the world No. 3 was dominant on a clay court surface he is famous for not liking.
“Every time I come to a tournament I know I can play well, so I’m happy to finally get the win here in Rome,” said Medvedev.
Fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas will take on home hope Lorenzo Sonego in the third round after finishing off Nuno Borges 6-3, 6-3.
World No. 7 Holger Rune eased past Italian veteran Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-2 to make the last 16.