ATP Rome: Novak Djokovic storms back to survive a test from Thomaz Bellucci

Novak Djokovic battled back from a one-sided first set loss to eventually sweep past Thomaz Bellucci 0-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the third round of the Italian Open. The world number one battled with the Brazilian clay-court specialist for an hour and 37 minutes on Center Court.

Brazilian beats down top seed in set number one

Djokovic and Bellucci went head-to-head in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in their sixth career meeting. The match was set to be a rematch of their third round in Rome 12 months ago. The Brazilian opened up match proceedings with a break to 15 and soon followed with a hold to love. Early on, Bellucci found his targets as he blasted a handful of winners in a matter of a few games. The top-ranked player in the world continued to lack answers for Bellucci's firepower and he soon found himself down a double break after getting broken to love.

The world number 37 increased his lead to four games to love after a comeback game to 30. But the Serb did not give up. Djokovic looked to get a game on the scoreboard, before losing a lengthy service game despite holding two game points. Surprisingly, Bellucci earned his way to a commanding 5-0 first set lead. He handled his nerves professionally to hold routinely for an unexpected scoreline, which left the world number one as well as the fans in utter shock.

Thomaz Bellucci in Rome action. Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
Thomaz Bellucci serves in Rome. Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Serbian turns the momentum around

After failing to win more than eight points in the opening set, Djokovic earned his first game of the match to open up the second set. The pair stayed dominant on serve until the top seed arrived at his first break point of the match. The Brazilian was broken for the first time and his opponent stepped into the driver's seat with a break lead. 

Djokovic immediately followed his impressive return game with a dictating service game, but Bellucci was quick to keep his hopes of victory alive with yet another hold of his own. The Serbian fiercely leveled the match at one set apiece after closing the second set on the first time of asking. The 37 minutes of second set play saw Djokovic step up his game en route to a comfortable 6-3 win.

Novak Djokovic in Rome action. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic slides into a forehand. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Djokovic Denies Underdog Major Upset 

Last year’s champion turned the momentum into his favor as he started the final set with a break. He consolidated with a hold to love, and suddenly Djokovic seemed out of reach for Bellucci. The oppositions exchanged holds until the seventh game of the third set, and it was the Serb who took the upper hand. A strong break to love earned him the chance to serve for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Djokovic stepped up to the baseline to serve for the match, but he quickly went down 0-30 as the Brazilian fought back. But time had run out for the clay-court specialist, as the world number one wrapped up a thrilling three-set bout in front of the energetic fans. The pair of 28-year-olds battled for a taxing hour and 37 minutes, but it was the four-time champion who was more clutch in the end.

Novak Djokovic in Rome action. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic in Rome action. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Top Seed To Play Another Clay-court Specialist

Djokovic will take on a familiar foe in Rafael Nadal in the final eight of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. The rivals will meet for their 49th career matchup, and it will be their sixth meeting in the Italian capital.