Another eventful day at the Italian capital where the Rome Masters’ has reached the quarter final stage with some familiar names missing including the home hope, the eighth seeded Jannik Sinner and Andrey Rublev, seeded six, amongst the fourth round departures.
But it is what it is. He brought the fire, and I responded to that. I’m not going to allow someone behaving like this just bending my head. I’m going to respond to that. That’s all it is. What happens on the court, we leave it on the court, and we move on. Novak Djokovic
Following the previous day’s surprise elimination of of Carlos Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic has become the favourite for this year’s edition which would be his seventh triumph at the eternal city, underlining his position by sweeping aside Britain’s No.1, Cameron Norrie in 90-minutes, 6-3 6-4.
Djokovic has now reached the last eight in Rome for a 16th time and, for a semi-final place, will face the Danish 20-year-old Holger Rune, seeded seven, who was kept on court for three hours before he could dispatch the Aussie qualifier, Alexei Popyrin 6-4 5-7 6-4.
The Serbian, who will be deposed by Alcaraz as world No.1 on Monday, won the first three games against the Brit and closed out the first set with little fuss and looked in full control without needing to be at his best.
With another break the 35-year-old eased into a 2-1 lead in the second but in the next game Norrie broke back and released his frustrations by smashing a high bouncing ball off a miss-hit Djokovic shot, which struck the Serbian on the back of his left leg.
Norrie had the whole court to smash the ball into but elected to strike it at Djokovic who had immediately conceded the point and was walking back to the service line.
The Briton raised his hand to apologise but at the changeover after Norrie moved to 3-2, Djokovic continued to show his displeasure giving him what one commentator described as ‘his death stare’!
Even at the net for the customary post-match handshake, Djokovic avoided any eye contact or verbal exchange.
Djokovic later explained in his post-match press conference, that he had been irritated by Norrie’s general on-court behaviour and admitted he had watched the incident.
“I did watch the replay when he hit me,” he said. “Maybe you could say he didn’t hit me deliberately. I don’t know if he saw me.
“Peripherally you can always see where the player is positioned on the court. The ball was super slow and super close to the net. I just turned around because the point was over for me.
“It was not so much maybe about that, it was maybe about that, but it was maybe a combination of things. From the very beginning he was doing all the things that were allowed.
“He’s allowed to take a medical timeout. He’s allowed to hit a player. He’s allowed to say ‘come on’ in the face more or less every single point from basically the first game.
“Those are the things that we players know in the locker room it’s not fair play, it’s not how we treat each other. But again, it’s allowed, so…”
He added: “I get along with Cameron really well all these years that he’s been on the tour. Practiced with each other. He’s a very nice guy off the court, so I don’t understand this kind of attitude on the court, to be honest.
“But it is what it is. He brought the fire, and I responded to that. I’m not going to allow someone behaving like this just bending my head. I’m going to respond to that.
“That’s all it is. What happens on the court, we leave it on the court, and we move on.”
Moving on to his next opponent — which will be a re-match of last year’s Paris Masters’ final which Rune won in what proved a thrilling encounter for his first title at ATP 1000 level — he added:
“Even though he’s really young, I know his game quite well. He’s been on the tour now for last few years playing some great tennis, particularly in the last I would say six to eight months,” Djokovic said.
“He’s in very good form and I look forward to a challenge. I think it’s going to be a very physical match.”
Meanwhile in-form third seed from Russia, Daniil Medvedev, came through 6-2 7-6(3) against Germany’s Alexander Zverev while Norway’s Casper Ruud, seeded four, comfortably dispatched Serbia’s Laslo Djere 6-1 6-3 while Croatian Borna Coric toiled over two hours and 25-minutes to get past the giant-killer from Hungary, Fabian Marozsan, 6-7(3) 6-2 6-2, who was unable to follow up on his dramatic previous day’s victory over Alcaraz.
However, Germany’s Yannik Hanfmann is keeping alive the prospect of some more major upsets by a qualifier as he took out the sixth seed from Russia, Rublev, 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3 in a close two-hour, 33-minute clash.
Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Lorenzo Sonego 6-3 7-6(3) in a third-round match which was suspended on Monday due to rain to set up a meeting with another Italian, Lorenzo Musetti whom he then beat a few hours later in the evening session, 7-5 7-5 to face Coric next.
And the Italian challenge was fully expunged when a tired looking eighth seed Sinner, crashed out to Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo 6-7(3) 6-2 6-2.