Young Novak Djokovic: 'It felt great to have Serbs and Italians by my side'

Novak Djokovic defeated Robin Soderling in Rome 2007

by Jovica Ilic
Young Novak Djokovic: 'It felt great to have Serbs and Italians by my side'

Novak Djokovic was the third seed in the 2006 Rome Masters qualifying draw. The young Serb failed to pass two obstacles and enter the main action, losing to Fabio Fognini in three sets. Novak returned to Foro Italico as a top-5 player a year later after playing at a high level in the opening four months of the 2007 season.

Djokovic lost the Indian Wells final to Rafael Nadal before bouncing back in Miami and claiming his first Masters 1000 trophy. Carried by this momentum, Novak won the title in Estoril on clay. He struggled in three encounters but crossed the finish line first for his fifth ATP trophy and a place in the top-5.

His next stop was Rome, playing in the Italian capital as one of the favorites and facing world no. 27 Robin Soderling in a tough first-round match. It was a challenging encounter for tired Djokovic, who battled past the Swede 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in two hours and 12 minutes.

Novak won seven points more than Robin, fending off nine out of 13 break chances and stealing the rival's serve five times from six opportunities to find himself in the last 16. After the match, Djokovic said he felt tired after Estoril but confident in his abilities for the rest of the clay season.

Djokovic praised the crowd at Foro Italico, his compatriots and the Italians, hoping for another good match against Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.

Novak Djokovic defeated Robin Soderling in Rome 2007.

"It was a difficult match; Robin is a great player with powerful strokes.

It was not easy for me to find my game and be aggressive, as he likes to keep the points on his racquet too. I'm happy to score a win; my self-confidence is high, which helped me today. I hope to recover for another tough match tomorrow.

I had a long season in the United States, and I did not have enough time to get used to clay. That's why I could have played better in Monte Carlo; it was not bad, but not my best tennis. I had to pass a couple of tough challenges en route to the title in Estoril last week.

That motivates me to push even harder in Rome, Hamburg and Paris. Last year, I lost in the qualifying round here in Rome, and today, a massive crowd came to watch and support me. It was fantastic, and I want to thank them. The Serbs and Italians were on my side, and it felt great. I'm tired after those long encounters in Portugal, but you have to be used to that," Novak Djokovic said.

Novak Djokovic Robin Soderling