Novak Djokovic’s furious look made it clear just how furious the 22-time Grand Slam champion was with his opponent.
And it wasn’t just because Cameron Norrie hit him on the left calf with an overhead shot after Djokovic had already turned his back and conceded a point early in the second set of the Serb’s 6-3 win, 6-4 on Tuesday.
There were also other instances of poor sportsmanship by Norrie, Djokovic said, after reaching the Italian Open quarterfinals for the 17th consecutive year.
Djokovic also took issue with the way his British opponent took a medical time-out just before serving the match.
“I watched the replay when he hit me. Maybe you could say he didn’t hit me deliberately,” Djokovic said in Rome when asked about his angry look at Norrie after the incident. “Maybe it wasn’t so much because of that… From the 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 Face every point from basically the first game.
“Those are the things that we players know in the dressing room: it’s not fair play, it’s not how we treat each other,” Djokovic said. “He brought the fire, and I responded to that. I’m not going to let someone who behaves like that just bow their head. I’m going to respond to that.”
Clearly motivated by Norrie’s behavior, Djokovic turned in his best clay-court performance of the year against 13th-seeded Norrie, who was unavailable for comment.
In women’s action, two-time defending Rome champion Iga Swiatek defeated Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-4 and will now face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
Targeting his seventh title on the red clay of the Foro Italico, Djokovic had his entire game clicking after struggling in the earlier rounds and in his previous two clay-court tournaments.
‘Glad to meet the challenge’
On a cloudy day after it had rained all morning, Djokovic seemed focused from the start.
“Actually, I finished my warm-up 10 minutes before going on court. So, I was a little rushed with everything, but we couldn’t [warm up] earlier due to rain,” Djokovic said. “So, I’m happy to overcome today’s challenge in straight sets and move on.”
Djokovic was seen in the coaches’ room before the match, having taken three weeks off before this tournament due to a persistent problem in his surgically repaired right elbow.
“Every day is something,” said Djokovic, 35, without specifying what was bothering him. “But luckily I was able to play and finish the game, so I hope I feel a bit better tomorrow.”
Djokovic committed less than half as many unforced errors as Norrie, 14-29; and had two more winners, 21-19.
Norrie won a clay-court title in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, beating Carlos Alcaraz in the final.
Djokovic will lose the No. 1 ranking to Alcaraz after this tournament, despite Alcaraz being beaten by Hungarian 135 ranked Fabian Marozsan in the third round on Monday.
Therefore, Alcaraz will be the No. 1 seed and Djokovic will be No. 2 at the French Open, which starts in 12 days.
Djokovic on Rune: ‘Great counter-puncher’
Djokovic will now face seventh-seeded Holger Rune in a rematch of the Paris Masters final that the 20-year-old Dane won in November. Rune defeated Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
“It kind of reminds me of the way he plays,” Djokovic said of Rune. “Really fit physically, great defense, but also a great counter-puncher. He can hurt you both on the forehand and backhand. Really solid serve. Aggressive return. A versatile player on all surfaces.
Rune reached the final of the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
“It’s going to be a very physical match,” Djokovic said.
Also, 2017 champion Alexander Zverev finished with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over JJ Wolf in a match that was suspended due to rain at 3-3 in the second set on Monday.
Zverev will play Daniil Medvedev again later in their fifteenth career meeting.
Stefanos Tsitsipas eliminated Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 7-6(3) in another match that began on Monday. Tsitsipas will later play another Italian, Lorenzo Musetti, in the evening session.
Musetti edged out Frances Tiafoe 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in a match that was also suspended.