Novak Djokovic snapped back to life after struggling through a first-set tiebreaker, with the six-time champion marking his 18th Rome Masters appearance with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 defeat of Tomas Atecheverry on Friday.

The Serb who is defending his title from a year ago, is back on court after skipping Madrid with an elbow injury which he says is no longer a bother – though he played in a protective black sleeve during the win which took nearly two hours.

Djokovic struggled in the opening set with 21 unforced errors and looked under-done on court before lifting in the second set to get the opening match completed.

“I’m still not at the desired level, still finding the shots and finding that groove on the court,” Djokovic said.

“It’s always a little bit tricky playing someone for the first time. He’s a clay-court specialist. 

“He started better than I did, I started pretty slow, but I found my groove towards the end of the first.”

The 35-year-old called his second set effort “good especially the last three or four games. I’m happy with the way I closed out the match.”

Djokovic will lose the ATP No.1 ranking to Carlos Alcaraz once the Spaniard steps onto court here as top seed.

The Serb stands a formidable 65-10 at the Foro Italico. A six-time Rome champion, Djokovic is aiming for a record-extending 39th Masters 1000 crown. He will next meet Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.

Djokovic looked like being sick in the corner of the court late in the opening set and was given a tablet by the trainer.

The top seed missed out on two set points in the opener and was forced to win the first set in a tiebreak before lifting slightly in the second to ensure the win.

“You act like you’re 100 per cent,” Djokovic said of his strategy.

“Most of the time I guess you’re not, but you want to show your opponent that you’re out there trying to fight for every ball. 

“I guess that’s what happened, it’s kind of  a cat-and-mouse always on clay.”

Djokovic will bid for the fourth round against Grigor Dimitrov, who beat 2008 finalist Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-6 (3).

Main photo:- Defending Champion Novak Djokovic playing with a protective sleeve on his right arm as he beats Tomas Atecheverry in Rome – by