HomeTennisItalian Open: Novak Djokovic cruises past Corentin Moutet, Ons Jabeur bundled out

Italian Open: Novak Djokovic cruises past Corentin Moutet, Ons Jabeur bundled out

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Novak Djokovic’s fast start at the Italian Open in Rome was overshadowed on Friday after he was
struck with a hard plastic water bottle
while greeting fans following his 6-3, 6-1 win over Corentin Moutet.

World No. 1 Djokovic was left crouched on the ground in agony as the bottle hit him on the back of the head as he was signing autographs while he exited the centre court at the Foro Italico. Djokovic was then led from the arena on foot by security staff while he made his way into the bowels of the stands.

A spokesman for the Italian tennis federation (FITP) told news agency AFP that Djokovic had been taken back to his hotel with a lightly bleeding head and that there is no risk he will withdraw from the tournament.

In a statement, the tournament said the bottle fell from a fan’s bag as they tried to get the player’s attention.

Djokovic retiring would be a disaster for organisers of the last major tournament before the French Open as it is already missing two big names in World No. 2 and World No. 3 Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz,
both withdrawing before the start of the event
.

Home fans have also been deprived of cheering on Matteo Berrettini and Lorenzo Musetti who both pulled out, Musetti while losing to Terence Atmane on Friday morning.

Djokovic will face Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo in the third round with a great chance to add to his array of titles at the Foro Italico, where only Rafael Nadal has won more with 10.

The Serbian has made no secret in the past that he loves playing in Italy and with a clutch of big names either out injured or struggling he will fancy his chances of a record-extending 41st Masters 1000 crown.

On the court, before the incident, Djokovic recovered from a slow start to pick his first win since Monte Carlo Masters.

“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 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.

One of Djokovic’s potential threats, third seed Alexander Zverev, breezed into the third round with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Australia’s Aleksandar Vukic.

Both Casper Ruud and Zverev were put on Djokovic’s side of the draw and German Zverev could face the tournament favourite in the last four.

“I know I’m the sort of player who can lose to anyone, I’ve unfortunately done that in the past but I also know that I’m a player that once I do find my rhythm I can beat anyone and I hope this can be the week where I find it,” said Zverev after his win.

Ons Jabeur’s tough 2024 continued after being dumped out of the women’s tournament in the second round by Sofia Kenin 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

World number nine Jabeur was beaten by unseeded American Kenin in a gruelling match which lasted two hours and 17 minutes in the hot Rome sunshine.

Tunisia’s Jabeur, who in 2022 became the first Arab player to win a WTA 1000 title, looked to be on the right track after reaching the quarter-finals in Madrid.

But she slumped to a poor defeat on Friday, continuing a dreadful season so far in which the 29-year-old has had to deal with a chronic knee injury resurfacing.

Jabeur has a losing record for the year, a far cry from the woman who looked like she had the world at her feet ahead of last year’s Wimbledon final, which she lost in straight sets to unfancied Marketa Vondrousova after blasting through a series of Grand Slam champions.

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.”

Elsewhere, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Svitolina, Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Ostapenko, Maria Sakkari and Danielle Collins all posted wins.

(with inputs from AFP)

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