Novak Djokovic returned to the court for the first time since defaulting at the US Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with the ball as he won at the Italian Open in Rome.
The world No 1’s bid for an 18th Grand Slam title ended in controversy after he swiped a stray ball that struck Laura Clark and resulted in his disqualification at the fourth round stage.
But the Serbian started his clay court season with a convincing 6-3 6-2 victory over wildcard Salvatore Caruso in the Italian capital.
Djokovic returned to action for the first time since his US Open default at the Italian Open
There wasn’t too much to test the Serbian’s patience as he coasted through to the last-16
Djokovic makes his point during the contest but there was little reason to get upset
It was the dropping of serve to Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta that sparked Djokovic’s temper to erupt in New York but that wasn’t a problem here.
Djokovic didn’t face a single break point against the unseeded Caruso as he coasted through to the last-16, where either compatriot Filip Krajinovic or Italian Marco Cecchinato await.
‘Obviously I had an early exit [at the US Open] so had more time to prepare,’ Djokovic said afterwards.
‘I did practice for a week now and tried to play some sets coming into this ATP 1000 match. Carruso is a clay court specialist and it was a great challenge today.’
Having received a first round bye earlier in the week, it was Djokovic’s words that stole the headlines in Rome as he admitted his sometimes volcanic on-court nature could well get him into trouble again.
Djokovic overcame the challenge of wildcard Salvatore Caruso in the second round in Rome
The match was played out before empty stands at the Foro Italico amid the Covid-19 pandemic
‘I understand I have outbursts and this is the personality and the player that I have always been,’ said the 33-year-old.
‘I cannot promise or guarantee I will never ever do anything similar to that in my life. I am definitely willing to try my best so that something like that never happens again.’
Fortunately there weren’t too many opportunities for that temper to be tested against Caruso, especially after four-time Rome champion Djokovic broke serve in the eighth game before sealing the set.
And the contest was as good as over when Caruso dropped his serve in a see-saw third game of the second set which lasted nearly 12 minutes.
Djokovic was booted out of the US Open for striking a line judge Laura Clark with a ball
Djokovic was immediately disqualified after the incident as his US Open hopes were ended
With all the momentum on his side, top seed Djokovic broke his opponent for a third time before celebrating victory by blowing kisses into the empty stands of the Foro Italico.
Having recorded 51 victories in 60 matches, Djokovic is the second most successful player in the tournament’s history – just behind nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic has won 27 of his 28 matches this year and will resume his hunt for an 18th Grand Slam title at the French Open, which begins on September 27.
‘My best results have come on hard court but I enjoy competing on clay,’ said Djokovic. ‘It’s a demanding surface where you have to be patient and construct your points.’