What a difference a year could make! In 2006, Novak Djokovic failed to qualify for the Masters 1000 event in Rome, heading back to the Italian capital as world no. 5 12 months later. Novak was among the best players in the opening four months of 2007 season, winning the title in Adelaide and reaching the first Masters 1000 final in Indian Wells.
The Serb lost to Rafael Nadal, taking positive notes and bouncing back in Miami where he claimed the first Masters 1000 crown at 19. Carried by this momentum (wins over Nadal and Andy Murray), Novak won the title in Estoril on clay, struggling in three encounters but still crossing the finish line first for the fifth ATP trophy and the 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 the first match. It was a tricky encounter for tired Djokovic, struggling but scoring a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win 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, Novak said he feels tired from Estoril but confident in his abilities in the rest of the clay season.
Djokovic praised the crowd, both his compatriots and the Italians, hoping for another good match against Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.
"It was a difficult match; Robin is a great player with powerful strokes.
It wasn't 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 and that helped me today. I hope to recover for another tough match tomorrow. I had a long season in the United States and I didn't have enough time to get used to clay.
That's why I didn't play well in Monte Carlo; it wasn't bad but not my best tennis. In Estoril last week, I had to pass a couple of tough challenges en route to the title. 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. Both the Serbs and Italians were on my side, and it was a great feeling.
Baghdatis and I never played before on the professional level. It will be a difficult encounter on the surface that is not the best for either of us. He is a good and talented player; it should be interesting. I'm tired after those long encounters in Portugal, but you have to be used to it," Novak Djokovic said.