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Djokovic Beats Stepanek To Open Bid

Rome, Italy

Djokovic© AFP/Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic improved to a 10-1 FedEx ATP Head2Head record over Radek Stepanek.

Novak Djokovic made a winning return to action Tuesday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, defeating Radek Stepanek 6-3, 7-5 in his opening second-round match. 

The Serb recovered from the right wrist injury that sidelined him in Madrid to defeat Stepanek in one hour and 37 minutes. He twice let slip a break advantage in the second set, but broke the Czech decisively in the 11th game, improving to a 10-1 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

"It was one of the most difficult conditions I’ve played in in my life," said Djokovic. "Playing when it’s very windy on the court, especially on clay, the clay gets in your eyes. It was very difficult to get any kind of rhythm. Stepanek is a very experienced player, so that’s why I had to be super-focused every game because I knew he had this variety of shots. It was a little bit frustrating when I dropped serve twice in the second set, but the positive is that I managed to stay mentally tough until the end and win."

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The 26-year-old Djokovic earned his 20th match win of the season, highlighted by winning his 17th and 18th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Miami. The Belgrade native is looking to triumph at the Foro Italico for the third time, having lifted the trophy in 2008 (d. Wawrinka) and 2011 (d. Nadal).

Tommy Haas battled to a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory over home favourite Andreas Seppi. The 15th-seeded German needed one hour and 48 minutes to advance, bouncing back from the first-round defeat he suffered to Igor Sijsling last week in Madrid. He will face Sijsling again in his next match, after the Dutchman beat Italian wild card Marco Cecchinato, 7-6(4), 7-5.

Kevin Anderson set a second-round contest with 11th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after edging Vasek Pospisil 7-5, 7-6(4). The South African won 78 per cent of his service points and didn’t face a break point as he notched his 17th win of the season.

Kazakhstani qualifier Andrey Golubev converted six of his eight break points as he upset Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 7-5 in their first meeting. The 26 year old goes on to face 14th seed Mikhail Youzhny.

Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis both benefitted from Colombian retirements in their openers. Cilic was leading 6-4, 2-0 when in-form qualifier Santiago Giraldo retired due to a hip flexor strain, and Gulbis had taken the first set 6-1 against lucky loser Alejandro Falla when he withdrew with right foot pain. 

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