Caruso beats Sandgren to set up meeting with Djokovic

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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ROME — Novak Djokovic’s first match since being defaulted from the U.S. Open will come against local wild-card entry Salvatore Caruso on Wednesday in the second round of the Italian Open.

The 87th-ranked Caruso defeated American qualifier Tennys Sandgren 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) Tuesday in the opening round at the empty Foro Italico, where fans are being kept away because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Caruso saved a match point late in the third set before closing it out after nearly three hours on a steamy 32 degree Celsius (90 degree F) day.

The top-ranked Djokovic, who had a first-round bye, said Monday that he learned “a big lesson” after he was thrown out of the tournament in New York for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.

Djokovic beat Caruso in straight sets in their only career meeting in the third round of last year’s French Open.

“I’ll try to draw from what I learned in that match,” Caruso said. “I’ll try to take a set from him and, who knows, maybe even the match. I’ve got to go out onto the court with the mindset that I can win.”

In other matches on Rome’s red clay, U.S. Open quarterfinalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov both won in straight sets.

Rublev eliminated Argentine qualifier Facundo Bagnis 6-4, 6-4; then Shapovalov was even more efficient in a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Guido Pella.

Alex de Minaur – another U.S. Open quarterfinalist – was tentative and wasted numerous chances in a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) loss to German qualifier Diminik Koepfer.

Also, Argentine qualifier Federico Coria, the younger brother of 2005 Rome runner-up Guillermo Coria, beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1, 7-6 (5). Coria will next face local favorite Matteo Berrettini, the No. 4 seed.

In the women’s tournament, Katerina Siniakova rolled past three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1; and last year’s French Open finalist, Marketa Vondrousova, held off a comeback from Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

Also, Coco Gauff won her first Tour-level match on clay, sliding into her shots like a veteran in beating 34th-ranked Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3.

But the 16-year-old American also hit three consecutive double-faults to hand back an early break in the second set before regaining her composure to seal the victory in 1 hour, 21 minutes.

Gauff said she had good results on clay as a junior and noted that she spends a lot of time on the surface at the French academy run by Patrick Mouratoglu, Serena Williams’ coach.

“I’ve been going there since I was 10,” Gauff said. “So I’m quite used to the red clay.”