ROME: Rafael Nadal struggled past 148th-ranked qualifier Paolo Lorenzi 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-0 in his opening match at the Italian Open Wednesday, looking far from the form that has helped him dominate on clay for six years.
It marked the third consecutive match in which Nadal dropped the first set, having also rallied to beat Roger Federer in the Madrid Open semifinals and then losing in straight sets to Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final. Nadal has never lost consecutive matches on his favorite surface.
Djokovic stretched his unbeaten start this year to 33 matches with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot earlier. The Serb has a chance to take the top ranking from Nadal if he wins this tournament and Nadal fails to reach the semifinals. Overall, Djokovic has won 35 consecutive matches stretching back to Serbia’s Davis Cup triumph in December, tying him for sixth in the Open era with Bjorn Borg (1978), Thomas Muster (1995) and Federer (2005).
Guillermo Vilas holds the Open era record for longest winning streak at 46 matches, established in 1977.
Djokovic’s next opponent will be 14th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who overcame a challenge from Italian wild card Filippo Volandri 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
The event at the Foro Italico is a key warmup for the French Open, which starts in 11 days. Federer, who has never won this title, got off to a solid start with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over former Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“It was easier than I expected. I always expect a tough match from Jo,” Federer said. “But I was able to play a clean match from start to finish and I’m really pleased.” Sixth-seeded David Ferrer withdrew before his match against Marin Cilic due to a fever. Also advancing were ninth-seeded Nicolas Almagro and 11th-seeded Mardy Fish, while No. 8 Jurgen Melzer and No. 15 Viktor Troicki were eliminated.
In women’s action, top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki breezed by Australian qualifier Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-0.
Also, two-time champion Jelena Jankovic dispatched Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-0, 6-3; third-seeded Victoria Azarenka rolled past Sara Errani of Italy 6-1, 6-2; and fourth-seeded Li Na of China dispatched Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain 6-4, 6-2.
French Open finalist Sam Stosur also advanced, but three seeds lost: No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 12 Andrea Petkovic and No. 13 Ana Ivanovic.
– Associated Press