Djokovic Wins His Opener At The Italian Open After A Month Off. Defending Champ Rybakina Withdraws

Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to France's Corentin Moutet at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to France's Corentin Moutet at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
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ROME (AP) — Novak Djokovic took a little while to get going in his first match in nearly a month.

He cleaned up his game after dropping his first two service games with some sloppy play, though, and completed a 6-3, 6-1 win over left-handed French qualifier Corentin Moutet in his opening match at the Italian Open on Friday.

“I haven’t practiced with a lefty in a while, so it took me a little bit of time to adjust to the different rotation on the balls,” Djokovic said. “The first four games were quite bad for me. … But then I played well.”

Djokovic later needed medical attention after accidentally getting knocked on the head by a water bottle while leaving the court.

A man was leaning over the railing to hand Djokovic a notebook for a signature and an aluminum-type water bottle fell out of his backpack and hit the top-ranked player on the top of his head.

“While leaving center court after his match, Novak Djokovic was hit on the head by a water bottle while signing autographs. He received medical attention and has already left the Foro Italico to return to his hotel. His condition is not a cause for concern,” tournament organizers said in a statement.

Djokovic hadn’t played since he lost to Casper Ruud in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on April 13. The 24-time Grand Slam champion is also without a title this year — the first time he’s reached May without a trophy since 2018, when he was returning from a right elbow injury.

But Rome, where he’s a six-time champion, is one of Djokovic’s favorite tournaments. It's also where Djokovic is trying to step up his game on clay before attempting to defend his title at the French Open, which starts on May 26.

Djokovic produced 21 winners to Moutet’s 13 and had 13 unforced errors to his opponent’s 20. Showing a willingness to come forward, Djokovic also won 18 of 22 points at the net.

“Corentin is a very talented player. He has great hands and very unpredictable. You don’t know what what comes up next. So I had to stay focused, which I did,” Djokovic said. “So it’s a good opening match.”

In the first game of the second set, the alarm on Moutet's phone began ringing, prompting him to run over and grab it out of his bag. He then jokingly held it up to his ear as if he was answering a call — drawing laughter from the crowd and a smile from Djokovic. The 83rd-ranked Frenchman then held up his arms to apologize for the interruption.

Djokovic improved to 18-0 in his opening matches in Rome. He’ll next face 29th-seeded Alejandro Tabilo.

Record 10-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal is in the other half of the draw.

Also advancing in second-round matches were 2017 Rome champion Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov and Ben Shelton, while Nuno Borges eliminated 15th-seeded Alexander Bublik 6-4, 6-4.

Lorenzo Musetti retired after losing the first set to French qualifier Terence Atmane because of a stomach virus, leaving host Italy without three big players. Jannik Sinner withdrew before the tournament with an injured hip and Matteo Berrettini pulled out on Wednesday following a series of physical issues.

In the women’s tournament, defending champion Elena Rybakina withdrew before her opening match against Irina-Camelia Begu because of illness.

“Unfortunately I do not feel well enough to compete,” the fourth-ranked Rybakina said. “I have such good memories from last year and was looking forward to defending my title.”

Sofia Kenin eliminated eighth-seeded Ons Jabeur 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, while Maria Sakkari, Jelena Ostapenko and Danielle Collins each advanced.


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