Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek through to Rome Masters quarter-finals

Serbian accuses Norrie of unsporting behaviour after sealing 17th consecutive last-eight spot in Italian capital, while Pole defeats Donna Vekic

Novak Djokovic after his Rome Masters win over Cameron Norrie at Foro Italico on May 16, 2023. AFP
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Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek are both through to the Rome Masters quarter-finals after straight-sets victories on Tuesday.

Djokovic, who is about to lose his world No 1 ranking to Carlos Alcaraz, secured his spot in the last eight for an incredible 17th straight year after overcoming Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-4.

Women's No 1 Swiatek defeated Croatian Donna Vekic by the same scoreline at Foro Italico

Djokovic is gunning for a seventh title on clay in the Italian capital and his chances have been made a little bit easier by the shock exit of Carlos Alcaraz on Monday.

Alcaraz will take over from Djokovic at the top of rankings on May 22 but it is the 22-time Grand Slam champion who could be heading to the French Open with yet another title under his belt.

The big talking point from Tuesday's match, though, came in the fourth game of the second set as Norrie sought to retrieve an early break.

Djokovic turned his back on the play after presenting his opponent with an easy overhead, only for Norrie, seemingly unintentionally, to drill the ball into the legs of the Serbian, who responded with an extremely hard stare.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Djokovic was less bothered by that incident than Norrie’s overall demeanour coupled with a medical timeout he took before the final game.

“I did watch the replay when he hit me,” said the 35-year-old. “Maybe you could say he didn’t hit me deliberately. I don’t know if he saw me.

“I mean, [in your peripheral vision] 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, but it was 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 ‘C’mon’ in the face more or less every single point.

“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.

“I got along with Cameron really well all these years that he’s been on the tour. Practised 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.”

Djokovic, meanwhile, was serving noticeably slower than usual but he was coy on the reason for an early morning visit to the treatment room. “Every day is something,” Djokovic said, without specifying what was bothering him. “But thankfully I was able to play and finish the match, so hopefully tomorrow it will feel a bit better.”

Next up for Djokovic will be seventh seed Holger Rune who came through a tough three-set battle against Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin.

The 20-year-old Dane, making his Rome debut, withstood heavy-hitting from the World No 77 before advancing 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 after three hours.

In the women's draw, two-time defending champion Swiatek won her 14th straight Rome Masters match – and 24th consecutive set – by defeating 21st seed Vekic to set-up a mouth-watering meeting with Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

The reigning French Open and US Open champion last lost a set in Rome against Barbora Krejcikova in the 2021 third round, and her only defeat was to Arantxa Rus in the 2020 first round.

Updated: May 16, 2023, 4:35 PM