By ANDREW DAMPF
AP Sports Writer
ROME (AP) — Novak Djokovic was not looking too far ahead after beating Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-3 in the first round of the Italian Open on Monday. Having failed to reach the quarterfinals in six straight tournaments following a right elbow injury, the 12-time Grand Slam winner doesn’t want to place too much pressure on himself — even though he is a four-time Rome champion. “Rome has always been a place where I’ve felt good, received a lot of support, where I’ve played well and obtained a lot of great results and today’s match encourages me and gives me reason to believe that it can be a good week for me,” Djokovic said.
“I would like to go all the way but at the same time, looking at my results, I have to be a little bit more modest with expectations.” In the rankings released on Monday, Djokovic fell to No. 18, his lowest standing since 2006 when he was still a rising pro. He could fall further down the rankings if he doesn’t defend the 600 points he earned by reaching the final in Rome last year. Perhaps Djokovic can find comfort in the fact that he has never lost before the quarterfinals in 11 appearances in Rome. “It is a mental game. Knowing that I’ve reached the biggest heights of this sport and I’ve been consistent with the best possible results for so many years,” Djokovic said. “The bar has been raised so, so high that when I step on the court I expect to win every match against anybody on any surface.”
Djokovic has said he returned to action too quickly following his injury. “I have to understand where the level of my game is and to accept this reality and to accept that there is a process to get where I want to go,” he said. Djokovic improved to 6-0 in his career against Dolgopolov, who himself has been struggling with a persistent injury to his wrist. Djokovic matched his 14 winners with 14 unforced errors — to Dolgopolov’s 10 winners and 19 unforced errors. Also, Kei Nishikori defeated Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-4 for his first victory since reaching the Monte Carlo Masters final last month. “It wasn’t (an) easy match,” Nishikori said. “It was windy. And he used a lot of slice and great serves. … Luckily I got (the) first set. After that I was more confident.”
Lopez argued with the chair umpire after losing a point in which he thought the ball bounced twice before Nishikori hit a half volley. The 24th-ranked Nishikori will next face third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov. David Goffin swept aside Leonardo Mayer 6-1, 6-2 and Pablo Carrena Busta beat Jared Donaldson 6-4, 3-6, 6-0. In the women’s tournament, former U.S. Open finalist Roberta Vinci bid her fans an emotional farewell following the final match of her career.
Having already announced that this would be her final tournament, the 35-year-old Vinci was beaten by Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic 2-6, 6-0, 6-3. “I’m crying now but I’m happy. I’m happy for what I’ve accomplished,” Vinci said in a post-match ceremony. “I would have liked to do better but it doesn’t matter that I lost.”
Naomi Osaka, who claimed her first WTA title at Indian Wells in March, eliminated former No. 1 Victoria Azaranka 6-0, 6-3. Also, Madison Keys beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-1; Johanna Konta defeated Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-3; and Petra Martic beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-2 and will next face defending champion Elina Svitolina.