World number one Novak Djokovic won a battle with fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic to advance to the quarter-finals of the Italian Open yesterday.
The 33-year-old came through 7-6 (7), 6-3 to reach the last eight on clay at the Foro Italico in Rome for the 14th consecutive year.
But it was a battle against 29th-ranked Krajinovic who had won their only previous meeting on clay in Belgrade a decade ago.
Djokovic double faulted on the first of his three set points in the first-set tiebreak but a quick break in the second put him through in a tournament he has won four times.
“Never easy, I think, emotionally to play against someone that is one of my best friends for many years,” said Djokovic, runner-up last year to Rafael Nadal.
The top seed is warming for the French Open in 10 days time, a tournament the 17-time Grand Slam winner claimed in 2016.
The four-time champion has won 28 of his 29 matches this year — winning the Australian Open, Dubai and Cincinnati before being disqualified from the US Open.
Djokovic is aiming to break a tie with fellow 35-time Masters 1000 champion Nadal by lifting his 36th crown this week.
The Serbian, who tied Pete Sampras’ mark of 286 weeks as the world number one on Monday, will face German qualifier Dominik Koepfer for a place in the semi-finals.
Koepfer became the first qualifier to reach the Rome quarter-finals in 11 years, ending the impressive run of Italian Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0.
If he reaches tomorrow’s semis Djokovic could play on front of spectators with the Italian government allowing 1,000 people to be present for the final two days of competition.
“I hope that that’s true,” he said. “1,000 people is better than no people, I mean, for sure, because we all miss the fans, and part of our professional careers in sport is playing in front of them and for them, as well.
“So I’m really glad that that’s going to happen.”
Later in the evening, Nadal swept aside Serb Dusan Lajovic to reach the quarter-finals as he warms up for the final Grand Slam of the season at Roland Garros.
The nine-time Rome winner came through 6-1, 6-3 against the 25th-ranked Lajovic, who had valiantly but vainly launched a fightback after trailing 4-0 in the second set to the Spaniard.
World number two Nadal next meets Argentine eighth seed Diego Schwartzman, who dropped a set before recovering to see off Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
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