A former world number 1 and a four-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic has improved his score in 2018 to 8-6 after a 6-4 6-2 win over a qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili in an hour and 17 minutes, setting the third round meeting with Albert Ramos-Vinolas on Thursday. This was the 44th win for the Serb in the Italian capital and he clinched it after saving all four break points he faced, stealing Nikoloz's serve three times from five break points he created, overpowering a tough opening set before he played on a higher level in set number two.
Novak had 17 winners and 18 unforced errors while Basilashvili hit 11 direct points but also 20 errors, including nine double faults that plagued his chances for a better result. Both players found their shots right from the start and the returners could win just three points in the opening five games, as Novak moved 3-2 ahead with a drop shot winner after just 14 winners.
Nikoloz saved two break points in game six with service winners and he had a colossal chance to break Novak in the following game, creating four break points. Djokovic lacked the depth and the pace in his shots but he got out of jail with two winners and two errors from Basilashvili to make an important hold.
The momentum was now on his side and he delivered a break of serve in game 10 with a forehand winner to take the opener 6-4 and gain confidence before the rest of the encounter. Nikoloz continued to fight, reaching three deuces on the return in games one and three but Novak held in both games and he broke at love in game two to open up a 3-0 advantage.
After four good holds on both sides we saw another break for Novak in game eight following a double fault from the Georgian and this was enough to send the Serb into the last 16. In what should be one of the longest matches of the entire tournament, 2016 Rome semi-finalist Kei Nishikori took down the birthday boy Grigor Dimitrov 6-7 7-5 6-4 in two hours and 55 minutes for his 11th win of the season and the fourth over Grigor in five matches. The Bulgarian was a break up in the second set and he has lead 4-2 in set number three, only to lose the last four games of the match and suffer his third straight defeat! Kei had 26 winners and 37 unforced errors while Grigor counted to 37 winners but also 53 errors, mostly from his backhand that let him down completely.
The Japanese had to play against only five break points, suffering three breaks but stealing Dimitrov's serve five times from 14 opportunities, enough to make a turnaround and reach the last 16. Six of those 14 break points in Grigor's games came in game five of the opening set and the Bulgarian fired four service winners before he netted a backhand on the sixth to lose serve and gave Kei the advantage.
Serving for the set in game 10, Nishikori got broken at love when Grigor fired a forehand down the line winner and the winner had to be concluded in the tie break. Dimitrov was 3-1 down before he scored three mini-breaks to seize the breaker 7-4 and move a set away from the win.
The second set also lasted for an hour and Grigor drew first blood with a break in game seven when Kei's backhand landed long, putting his rival in a really tough position. Dimitrov wasted a game point for a 5-3 and Nishikori broke back with a bullet from his backhand, in what would turn out to be one of the most important shots of the match.
Kei grabbed another break in game 12 thanks to a forehand error from the Bulgarian and the winner of this grueling encounter would come in the third set. There, Grigor bounced back to earn the break in game five and he held with ease to confirm the break and move 4-2 ahead.
Kei was ready to fight for every point and he broke back in game eight to level the score and gain the momentum before he scored another one in game 10 to emerge as a winner after almost three hours. Second round results: