Etcheverry lines up Djokovic clash in Rome as Wawrinka moves on

·3-min read
Major challenge: Argentina's Tomas Etcheverry will face Novak Djokovic in Rome
Major challenge: Argentina's Tomas Etcheverry will face Novak Djokovic in Rome

Novak Djokovic will begin his bid to retain the Italian Open title against Tomas Etcheverry after the Argentine beat Luca van Assche in the first round on Wednesday.

World number 61 Etcheverry beat Frenchman Van Assche in straight sets, 7-6 (9/7), 6-3, in Rome to reach the second round, when the top seeds join the fray.

Djokovic comes into the clay-court tournament he has won six times recovering from an elbow injury and set to lose top spot in the world rankings to Carlos Alcaraz.

Alcaraz just needs to play a match in the Italian capital to return to the world number one ranking ahead of the French Open which starts later this month.

Djokovic won his record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January but missed the American hard-court swing in March due to his refusal to be vaccinated.

The 35-year-old has endured a tough start to the European clay-court season, being eliminated in the last 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters, in the quarter-finals at Banja Luka and then pulling out of Madrid.

Veteran Stan Wawrinka will face 25th seed Grigor Dimitrov in the last 64, the three-time Grand Slam winner easing past Ilya Ivashka 6-4, 6-2.

Wawrinka, 38, and playing in the Italian capital for the 18th time, hit 26 winners and saved the one break point he faced.

"I was ready for it. I am playing well. It was a good first match and I am really happy to get through again," said Wawrinka, who was runner-up to Djokovic in Rome in 2008.

The former world number three now down at 84 in the rankings added: "I have been working hard to get to this level. This year I am playing much better, but I need to win more matches."

Later Andy Murray takes on Italian maverick Fabio Fognini after winning his first title since 2019 at the weekend.

Murray, who has won three Grand Slams, claimed the honours at the Aix-en-Provence Challenger tournament in France on Sunday.

The 35-year-old is now 42 in the world as he targets a seeded spot at Wimbledon in July.

In the women's event, Lesia Tsurenko won an-all Ukrainian clash, beating Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-3.

The 28-year-old Svitolina, returning to the tour from maternity leave, says the Russian invasion of her country means her career now has greater significance than in her pre-motherhood days when she was number three in the world and swept up 16 titles.

"I want to make sure Ukraine is still in the news," said 540th-ranked Svitolina who is married to French tennis star Gael Monfils.

"Playing tournaments, trying to organise events on the side, connecting with people around the events -- that's really important.

"The war continues, so we need to continue helping people."