Former world number 1 and a four-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic has made a great start at Foro Italico, defeating Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1 6-3 in 55 minutes for his seventh win of the season in 13 matches. It was a great performance from the Serb who had enough time to prepare himself after another early exit in Madrid, serving well and outplaying his opponent with deep and accurate groundstrokes to book his place in the second round.
The Ukrainian played only his fifth tournament of the season and he is still far from the desired form, making too many errors and unable to match Novak's pace from the baseline. The Serb won more than 50% of the return points and he claimed four breaks from five chances he created.
On the other hand, he lost just 11 points in his games, saving one break point to keep his serve intact and he could be pleased with the way he performed in his opening match, having to defend the final from 12 months ago.
Novak had a clear advantage in the shortest points and that is where his win came from, serving and returning well and outplaying Dolgopolov with the first groundstroke after his initial shot. Djokovic found his range early on and he won the opening eight points of the match, breaking to start the match and holding for a 2-0 after just three minutes! Alexandr failed to impose his shots and he dropped serve in game five after a forced error, making another one in game seven to hand the opener to Novak in 20 minutes! The second set brought more competitive tennis and just one break point on each side, and it was Novak who had to save the first and only break chance with a service winner in game three.
He broke Dolgopolov in the following game with a forehand winner and that was all he needed to bring the match home after a hold at love in game nine, sealing the deal with a backhand winner for the place in the second round.
Kei Nishikori also had a good day at the office, prevailing against Feliciano Lopez 7-6 6-4 in an hour and 48 minutes for his 10th win of the season. This was their seventh meeting and the fourth win for Ke, the first since Madrid 2014, saving two out of three break points he faced and bringing the match home with two breaks of serve in set number two.
Nishikori had 18 winners and 19 unforced errors while Lopez stood on 26 winners and 31 mistakes, losing the ground to Kei in the mid-range points which cost him the match. Kei sailed through his service games in the first set and he created two break points, in games four and 12.
Feliciano saved the first one with an ace and the second one with a similar shot in that 12th game when he converted his sixth game point to set up a tie break. It was a loose one, with nine mini-breaks in 12 points and Nishikori was more focused in the closing stages, stealing two points on Lopez's serve at 4-5 and finishing the job after a slice error from the Spaniard.
Carried by this momentum, Kei broke at the start of the second set when Feliciano sent a forehand wide but the Spaniard got the break back in game six after a deep forehand attack. He was robbed in the following game and Kei broke to take a crucial 4-3 advantage, sealing the deal with a service winner in game 10 to notch an important win in his quest for returning into the Top 20 as soon as possible.
First round results: