Djokovic bottle strike overshadows Rome Open cruise past Moutet

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

World number one 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 who covered the 24-time Grand Slam winner while he made his way into the bowels of the stands.

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

The spokesman said that Djokovic did not need stitches and that the bottle likely fell while a fan tried to get the player’s attention, adding that security camera footage is being consulted to help identify the culprit.

“His condition is not a cause for concern,” said organisers in a short statement before then sending media a video in which it appears that the bottle accidentally slipped from a spectator’s grasp before landing on Djokovic’s head.

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.

“Thank you for the messages of concern,” Djokovic wrote on the social media platform X. “This was an accident and I am fine resting at the hotel with an ice pack. See you all on Sunday.”

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.

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 after Ruud of Norway was upset in surprising fashion.

After sweeping the first set against Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic, Ruud fell 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 on his preferred surface, clay. Ruud once won four clay-court tournaments in a row and was a semi-finalist in Rome in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

Ruud was not the only seeded player eliminated on Friday. Portugal’s Nuno Borges defeated 15th seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-4, as Bublik’s seven aces were hindered by six double faults. China’s Zhizhen Zhang knocked out French 19th seed Adrian Mannarino 6-1, 6-3.

Italian qualifier Francesco Passaro, ranked just 240th in the world, toppled 23rd seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).

Another Italy native, Luciano Darderi, beat 28th-seeded Mariano Navone of Argentina 6-3, 6-2, and Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro upset Australian 32nd seed Jordan Thompson 6-1, 6-3.

French qualifier Terence Atmane moved on when 26th seed Lorenzo Musetti of Italy retired down 7-5, 1-0.

Eighth seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria beat Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 7-5, 6-4 while Karen Khachanov of Russia and Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina both won in straight sets.

Three American stalwarts are on to the next round. Taylor Fritz, the 11th seed, swept Italian wild card Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-4; 12th-seeded Ben Shelton rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Russia’s Pavel Kotov; and Sebastian Korda outlasted Italy’s Flavio Cobolli 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 6-4.

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, who in 2022 became the first Arab player to win a WTA 1000 title, was beaten by unseeded American Kenin in a gruelling match which lasted two hours and 17 minutes in the hot Rome sunshine.

Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka, the tournament’s second seed, had a scare of her own but came out on the other side. She defeated American Katie Volynets 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, saving 11 of 16 break points along the way.

Fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece skated past France’s Varvara Gracheva 6-2, 6-2, and Latvian ninth seed Jelena Ostapenko defeated Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-4, 6-2.

Jasmine Paolini, seeded 11th, wasn’t as fortunate. Mayar Sherif of Egypt outlasted the Italian crowd-favorite Paolini 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-4 in two hours, 41 minutes.

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