The Serb has never lost before the quarter-finals of the tournament and is now just three wins away from joining the club of 1,000 games won.
“He probably has the biggest calf we have in tennis. A very strong guy, just solid from the baseline,” Djokovic said of 35th-placed Karatsev.
—Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) 1652198683000
“You never know with him. If he feels the ball, he can be very dangerous because he stays so close to the line, puts pressure on his opponents.”
Karatsev committed 36 unforced errors during the game and Djokovic made sure to capitalize on those mistakes.
“Lacked a lot of points today, gave me a few breaks in first and second.
“I’ll take this win for sure. It’s a straight sets win against a quality opponent and I’m looking forward to the next challenge,” continued the Serb.
Djokovic, who is in his record 369th week as world number one, needs to reach at least the semi-finals in Rome to maintain his best ranking and avoid being overtaken by Daniil Medvedev.
In the round of 16, Djokovic will face his compatriot Laslo Djere or three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka.
Djokovic started with a break of serve en route to a 2-0 lead but Karatsev erased the deficit in no time to equalise.
The top seed increased the pressure to break again in game eight and closed out the set in style, showing off her volleyball skills in front of a spirited home crowd in Rome.
Djokovic took a 4-0 lead in the second set and sealed the victory by 90 minutes on his first chance, to improve to 2-1 in his one-on-one against Karatsev.
Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas will face off for the second time in seven days after the Bulgarian beat American qualifier Brandon Nakashima 6-3, 6-4 in the first round on Tuesday.
It was Dimitrov’s 10th Masters 1000 victory of the season and he will only be looking for a second victory over Tsitsipas in their sixth career meeting against each other.
Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman saved two match points and recovered from a 15-game losing streak in his clash with in-form Miomir Kecmanovic before clinching his ticket to the second round with a 6-2, 3- 6, 7-6 (7/ 3) result. The 12th seed will then face the lucky loser Marcos Giron.
Britain’s ninth seed Cameron Norrie saved 4/4 break point in his 6-4, 6-4 win over local wildcard Luca Nardi and next faces former US Open champion Marin Cilic.
In the women’s tournament, Madrid runner-up Jessica Pegula enjoyed a winning start to the campaign, beating world number 25 Liudmila Samsonova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second round.
A finalist for Ons Jabeur in the Spanish capital on Saturday, Pegula held off 38 winners from slugger Samsonova to set up a last-32 showdown with in-form Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina.
The 13th-seeded Pegula, who played with a heavily strapped left thigh against Samsonova, reached the quarter-finals in Rome last season and improved her win-loss tally in 2022 to 18-9.
Former French Open champion and No. 11 seed Jelena Ostapenko was dispatched by American qualifier Lauren Davis 6-2, 6-3 in just an hour and 10 minutes.
US world number 32 Amanda Anisimova, a former Roland Garros semi-finalist, will face Olympic champion Belinda Bencic in the next round after recovering from a second-set bagel to defeat Czech qualifier Tereza Martincova 6-2, 0- 6, 6- 4.
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