ROME: Novak Djokovic fought his way into the third round of the Italian Open on Friday, beating Tomas Etcheverry 7-5 (7/6), 6-2 in a surprisingly tight encounter.
A six-time winner in Rome, the world number one was made to work by the 61st-ranked Argentine, prevailing in one hour, 51 minutes to set up a third round clash with Grigor Dimitrov who beat Stan Wawrinka.
Djokovic, a 22-time Grand Slam title winner, has not been knocked out of an ATP Tour event at the first attempt since the Monte Carlo Masters last year.
Still nursing an injury to his right elbow he had to battle his way past Etcheverry, winning the first set via a tie-break before finally ensuring passage into the next round.
"I've said before that this surface requires more time for me than maybe for other players to get myself to a good level, move well and hit the ball well. Rome has always been a tournament that I need for Roland Garros," said Djokovic who was plagued by 21 unforced errors in the opener.
Djokovic appeared unwell at 5-5 in the first set and took a tablet in the changeover.
"You act like you're 100 per cent," Djokovic said.
"Most of the times I guess you're not, but you want to show your opponent that you're out there trying to fight for every ball. I guess that's what happened, it's kind of cat-and-mouse always on clay."
Djokovic, 35, has made 12 finals in Rome and said on Thursday that he was feeling good ahead of the tournament despite missing last week's Madrid Masters.
Wearing an elbow brace he made a slow start, dropping his serve in the first game and struggling to deal with the Argentine's powerful shots.
The first set hinged on a scrappy game six, in which Djokovic broke to level the scores following a battle at deuce.
From there, the set went with the serve until Djokovic won the final four points in the tie-break to take the lead.
Djokovic then kicked up a level, breaking serve in the first and seventh games of the second set to give the match a more straightforward look than Etcheverry's performance deserved.
PEGULA, JABEUR OUT
World number seven Holger Rune marked his Rome debut with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Arthur Fils of France.
"He made it tough. He's young, younger than me. It feels kind of crazy because I think this is the second time in my life I'm playing someone that's younger," said 20-year-old Rune.
World number one Iga Swiatek started her bid to win a third straight Italian Open WTA title by demolishing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-0.
The Pole's path to another Rome title opened up on Thursday when world number two and third-ranked Jessica Pegula was knocked out by fellow American Taylor Townsend 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Swiatek faces Lesia Tsurenko in the last 32 after extending her winning streak in the Italian capital to 12 matches.
Last year's losing finalist, fourth seed Ons Jabeur fell 6-1, 6-4 to Paula Badosa.
The 28-year-old Jabeur has had calf problems in recent weeks, an injury which caused her to retire in the semifinals at Stuttgart and not defend her Madrid title.
Badosa will face world number 27 Marta Kostyuk in the third round. -- AFP
Italian Open results
Men (second round)
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Tomas Etcheverry (ARG) 7-6 (7/5), 6-2; Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x26) bt Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 6-4, 7-6 (7/3); Marton Fucsovics (HUN) bt Alex De Minaur (AUS x17) 6-3, 6-4; Cameron Norrie (GBR x13) bt Alexandre Muller (FRA) 6-2, 6-3; Alexei Popyrin (AUS) bt Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN x10) 6-4, 4-6, 7-5; Roman Safiullin bt Sebastian Korda (USA x22) 6-2, 7-6 (7/5); Fabio Fognini (ITA) bt Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB x30) 6-3, 7-6 (8/6); Holger Rune (DEN x7) bt Arthur Fils (FRA) 6-3, 6-3; Casper Ruud (NOR x4) bt Arthur Rinderknech (FRA) 6-4, 6-0; Alexander Bublik (KAZ) bt Ben Shelton (USA x28) 6-4, 1-6, 6-2; Laslo Djere (SRB) bt Botic van de Zandschulp (NED x23) 6-2, 6-4; Christian Garin (CHI) bt Tommy Paul (USA x16) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; Gregoire Barrere (FRA) bt Karen Khachanov (x11) 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4); Francisco Cerundolo (ARG x24) bt Wu Yibing (CHN) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3; Alexander Shevchenko bt Sebastian Baez (ARG) 6-3, 6-4; Jannik Sinner (ITA x8) bt Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 6-1, 6-4
Women (second round)
Iga Swiatek (POL x1) bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-0; Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) bt Bernarda Pera (USA x28) 6-4, 6-4; Donna Vekic (CRO x21) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; Liudmila Samsonova (x16) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST) 6-3, 6-3; Maria Sakkari (GRE x9) bt Barbora Strycova (CZE) 6-1, 6-3; Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) bt Bianca Andreescu (CAN x24) 6-0, 6-1; Anna Kalinskaya bt Elise Mertens (BEL x25) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; Elena Rybakina (KAZ x7) bt Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 7-6 (7/4), 6-1; Paula Badosa (ESP) bt Ons Jabeur (TUN x4) 6-1, 6-4; Marta Kostyuk (UKR x32) bt Claire Liu (USA) 6-0, 6-4; Karolina Muchova (CZE) bt Martina Trevisan (ITA x18) 3-6, 6-3, 7-5; Camila Giorgi (ITA) bt Ekaterina Alexandrova (x15) 6-4, 6-2; Barbora Krejcikova (CZE x10) bt Danka Kovinic (MNE) 6-2, 4-1 - retired; Jelena Ostapenko (LAT x20) bt Sorana Cirstea (ROM) 6-3, 3-6, 6-2; Julia Grabher (AUT) bt Jil Teichmann (SUI x26) 7-6 (7/4), 5-7, 6-3; Daria Kasatkina (x8) bt Lisa Pigato (ITA) 6-1, 6-2