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6-4, 6-4 win over Bellucci sets up quarter-final clash with Verdasco
It is perhaps a little-known fact, but world No.2 Novak Djokovic is actually pretty good on clay. The fact that he has 12 titles on hard courts, coupled with the dominance that Rafael Nadal has exerted over the red dirt since 2005, means that it is easy to overlook Djokovic’s skills on the slowest of surfaces. So when, after his 6-4, 6-4 third round win over Tomaz Bellucci, he was told by a journalist that he was “not known as a specialist clay-court player, but still had some pretty decent results here in all the years”, he was not about to let this slight go uncorrected.
“I don’t think I have had decent results, I think I’ve had great results in the past couple of years, especially in 2009 when I won a couple of events. I played the final against Rafa and in the French Open I played twice the semi-finals and quarters and I lost all to Nadal, so if I didn’t have such strong opponents as Nadal and Federer, I would probably have been one of the best players in the world on this surface in the last couple of years – that is a fact. I’ve grown up on the surface and had a lot of success, and I just feel comfortable playing lately. I am aware that it needs a lot of physical energy and you have to be fit to keep on with the long rallies because it’s a slow surface and it makes you run more, and you need to be dedicated more to the point than on other surfaces. I think I’m doing quite a good job and I have a good game going. I produce a lot of spin from the forehand. In Rome, all the conditions here are a bit faster than the other surfaces which gives me more freedom to perform.”
His win on Thursday set up a quarter-final clash with No.6 seed Fernando Verdasco, who has won three of his five titles on clay. “We’ve played a lot of different matches on a lot of different surfaces and I won most of them,” said a confident Djokovic. “The last time we played, I really didn’t feel good on the court and made a lot of unforced errors and didn’t really get the real picture of my game and the way I was supposed to play against Verdasco. He has a couple of great weeks behind him on clay courts and definitely is one of the best players in the world right now. He is physically very strong and he’s making less mistakes and he’s improved a lot since last year. His backhand is not a big disadvantage in his game so he’s improved there. Of course his serve has always been a weapon on his side. He is a complete player but I know the way I should play against him. It’s going to be very tough. I don’t think I’m the favourite at all for tomorrow but if I play the way I’m playing now, if I play an aggressive game, if I perform the way I know how to perform, then I will have a good chance to win.”