Aussie qualifier marches into last 16 at Italian Open as epic clash against world No. 7 looms

Aussie qualifier marches into last 16 at Italian Open as epic clash against world No. 7 looms

Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin made the last 16 of the Italian Open thanks to a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Roman Safiullin.

The straight sets victory means the 23-year-old’s run in Rome is his deepest at a Masters 1000 tournament where he now awaits a date with world No. 7 Holger Rune.

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Popyrin stole the advantage by snatching three break points off his rival as Safiullin broke the Aussie’s serve just once throughout the contest.

The Aussie was also dominant when it mattered on his second serve, winning 75 per cent of points while Safiullin struggled and won just 53 per cent.

Popyrin will look to continue his impressive form against top ten opponents when he takes on Rune having beaten Felix Auger-Aliassime twice this year as well as American star Taylor Fritz.

Joining Popyrin in the last 16 is Novak Djokovic who emerged on top in his battle with Grigor Dimitrov with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 victory.

Six-time Rome champion Djokovic initially looked in improved form compared to his sluggish tournament opener against Tomas Etcheverry but again had a fight on his hands against the former world number three.

“I think I’m getting close to the desired level. You can always play better but today I had a really good quality opponent and I think I delivered,” Djokovic told reporters.

No longer wearing the elbow brace he had in Friday’s second round match, Djokovic looked to have shaken off the injury which forced him to miss last week’s Madrid Masters.

Popyrin faces Holger Rune in the last 16. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


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The 22-time Grand Slam title winner lost his serve in the first game of the match but broke back immediately and in game four broke again to tip the first set in his favour.

Djokovic served out to take the lead and in game three of the second set broke former world number three Dimitrov, who handed the initiative to the Serb with a weak backhand into the net.

However Dimitrov levelled the set at 4-4 with a break of his own, angering Djokovic who was convinced that the shot which won the game was long, and drew huge roars from the Foro Italico crowd when he claimed the set.

However Djokovic has reached at least the quarter-finals in each of his 16 appearances in Rome and a powerful third set display ensured his passage into the fourth round.

“I was very happy to find the right rhythm in the first game of first set … That was super important to make a break early and hold things under control,” said Djokovic.

Iga Swiatek was in blistering form as she disposed of Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0.

Losing finalist in Madrid last weekend, Swiatek looked again in imperious form as she breezed into the last 16 of the women’s draw.

The 21-year-old is trying for her third straight Rome title and made light work of Tsurenko after a slightly bumpy start.

Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Grigor Dimitrov. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Swiatek lost the first two games but then rattled off 12 in a row in a powerful demonstration of why she is world number one and favourite to defend her Roland Garros title.

“I’m just trying to be consistent and trying to play my game. I treat every match as a final, I try to have the right mindset,” said Swiatek on court.

Swiatek now faces either Donna Vekic or Ljudmila Samsonova in the fourth round after extending her winning streak in the Italian capital to 13 matches.

Her bid for a Rome hat-trick will be helped by six of the world’s top 10 women players being eliminated early.

Fifth-ranked Coco Gauff of the United States was defeated by Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. It was Bouzkova’s third career Top 5 win but first on clay.

Also heading for the exit was world number eight Maria Sakkari who was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Marketa Vondrousova.

ROME, ITALY – MAY 14: Iga Swiatek of Poland celebrates during the Women’s Singles Round of 32 against Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine during Day Seven of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia 2023 at Foro Italico on May 14, 2023 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Gauff and Sakkari join world number two Aryna Sabalenka, third-ranked Jessica Pegula, world number four Caroline Garcia and seventh ranked Ons Jabeur in being dumped out of the tournament.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka withdrew with a right leg injury handing Madison Keys of the United States a free pass into the last 16.

Daniil Medvedev won his first ever match in Rome, 6-4, 6-2 against Emil Ruusuvuori, the former US Open champion winning a second round match which was postponed to Sunday due to the torrential rain which hit the Italian capital on Saturday.

In much balmier conditions the world number three was dominant on a clay court surface he is famous for not liking.

“Every time I come to a tournament I know I can play well, so I’m happy to finally get the win here in Rome,” said Medvedev.

Fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas will take on home hope Lorenzo Sonego in the third round after finishing off Nuno Borges 6-3, 6-3.

World number seven Holger Rune eased past Italian veteran Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-2 to make the last 16.


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