World No. 1 Novak Djokovic made a winning start to the clay-court season in Rome on Wednesday, breezing past Italian wild card Salvatore Caruso in an hour and 24 minutes, 6-3, 6-2.
After seven straight holds to start the match, Djokovic broke for 5-3 and never really looked back, serving out the first set and then breaking twice more in the second to ease into the round of 16.
It was Djokovic's first match since the default in the fourth round of the US Open.
“I was actually looking forward to playing an official match as soon as possible after what happened in New York, because I feel like the sentiment on the court needs to be positive,” he said. “I need to kind of remove anything that can possibly cause any kind of issues, if there is something. I didn’t feel I had any mental blockages or any dramas playing today. On the contrary, I felt very comfortable playing.
“It was a very good test for me. I’m very pleased with the way I handled myself in the important moments. I was in control of the match, served well when I needed to come up with a big serve, moved well, constructed the points as the clay courts demand, because it’s obviously a completely different surface in terms of building the points, tactically. Everything went well. I’m very pleased.”
The Serb is now 27-1 on the season and 51-9 in his career at the Masters 1000 event in Rome, those 51 wins being the second-most wins at the event in the Open Era, trailing only Rafael Nadal, who went into his match at night with 61. Roger Federer is next on the list with 35 career wins in Rome.
It’s a quick transition from hard to clay this year, but Djokovic—a four-time champion in Rome in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015—has already spent some time finding his feet on the surface again.
“It’s going to be an adjustment, a challenge, how quickly can we adapt, how quickly can we adjust to this new surface,” he said. “Let’s see. I did have four or five days of training, and coming here a couple of days more of training before my first match. I think it’s sufficient, but let’s see on the court.”
Next up for Djokovic in the third round will be fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic, who beat Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato later in the day, 6-4, 6-1. Cecchinato was a semifinalist at the 2018 French Open.
Krajinovic won the pair's only previous meeting, though it came more than 10 years ago in Belgrade, and by retirement—after losing the first set, 6-4, Djokovic had to stop due to illness and allergies.
The women’s No. 1 seed was also among the early winners, as Simona Halep beat Jasmine Paolini, 6-3, 6-4, getting broken five times—but breaking the Italian wild card eight times—to move through.
The two-time Grand Slam champion is now 6-0 since the tour resumed, having gone 5-0 en route to capturing her 21st career WTA title in another European capital, Prague, in early August.
There were a few upsets on Wednesday afternoon, though, most notably No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas scrambling back from 6-1, 5-2 down—and even fighting off two match points in the second set tiebreaker—before ultimately falling to Italian teenager Jannik Sinner in three sets, 6-1, 6-7 (9), 6-2.
Sinner's win over the No. 6-ranked Greek was the biggest win of his career.