ROME: Alexander Zverev got his Rome title defence underway at the Italian Open on Wednesday (May 16) with a straight-sets win over Italy's Matteo Berrettini as the German bids for back-to-back Masters triumphs after success in Madrid.
The second seed eased past Berrettini 7-5, 6-2 to join former winners Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the third round at the Foro Italico as Austrian Dominic Thiem fell at the first hurdle.
"It's not easy to come from Madrid where there's a lot of altitude and it's very fast," said Zverev. "I only had one day to prepare but I adjusted well."
But sixth seed Thiem crashed out just a week after inflicting a first clay-court defeat on Nadal in over a year in Madrid which cost the Spaniard the world number one ranking.
The 24-year-old destroyed his racket in fury as he suffered his first defeat to Italian Fabio Fognini in three meetings, sinking 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 at the Foro Italico.
For rising German star Zverev it was a tenth consecutive win after back-to-back title runs at Munich and Madrid.
Zverev trailed 0/40 in the third game but rolled off five points to hold. He broke in the 11th game and later served out the set.
Berrettini turned on his right ankle at 1-2 in the second set and looked in difficulty, allowing Zverev to push through.
The 21-year-old from Hamburg next meets Britain's Kyle Edmund, who beat Djokovic in the Madrid second round, and got past Lucas Pouille 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) in Rome on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, clay king Nadal was relieved to be back winning as he builds towards the French Open, racing to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Bosnian Damir Dzumhur.
"After a loss in Madrid, it's important to come back strong. And that's what I did today," said Nadal, who is targeting an eighth Rome title and first since 2013.
The 31-year-old, who claimed the 11th titles of his career at both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, took the first set in 34 minutes, coasting to victory in just an hour.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner next takes on Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov who dug deep in a 7-6 (7/3), 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 win over Robin Haase of the Netherlands.
Djokovic, a four-time champion on the comeback trail three months after elbow surgery, eased past Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.
The Serb will next play Spaniard Albert Ramos Vinolas who squeezed past American eighth seed John Isner 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/5).
Bulgarian third seed Grigor Dimitrov also suffered an early exit, going out to Japan's Kei Nishikori after a marathon 6-7 (4/7), 7-5, 6-4 battle.
HALEP, WOZNIACKI ADVANCE
In the women's tournament, top seeds Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the third round in straight sets.
Halep eased past Japan's Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-0, as Wozniacki beat Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck 6-1, 6-4.
Wozniacki can reclaim the world number one ranking from Halep, last year's losing finalist, if the Romanian fails to reach the quarter-finals.
Halep next plays 13th-seeded American Madison Keys, who battled past Croatian Donna Vekic 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/0), for a place in the last eight.
Maria Sharapova saved two break points in the third set to get past Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
"I just really wanted to win this match against a really classy player," said the five-time Grand Slam champion.
Venus Williams, who won the Rome title back in 1999 and is bidding for her 50th career title this week, got her first win on clay this season.
But the 37-year-old had to save a match point before seeing off Russian Elena Vesnina 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 and will next face Anett Kontaveit.
US Open champion Sloane Stephens will play France's Caroline Garcia for a quarter-final place.
Former world number one Karolina Pliskova took centre stage for smashing the umpire's chair with her racket instead of shaking hands after losing to Greece's Maria Sakkari after an incorrect line call.