Rome, Italy (SportsNetwork.com) - High-flying world No. 1 star and reigning champion Novak Djokovic needed all threes sets to capture his opening match Tuesday at the $4.335 million Italian Open tennis event.
The Serbian stalwart outlasted Spanish clay-courter Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 in two hours at the beautiful Foro Italico.
"At the end of the day it's a win after three weeks with no official match," said Djokovic. "In the important moments today, I did feel a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe that's due to a lack of competitive play in the past couple of weeks. But I won against a quality player who knows how to play on the big stage. All in all, it was a great test. Before coming to the court, I was aware he was going to present a great challenge."
Djokovic beat then reigning two-time champ Rafael Nadal in last year's marquee Rome finale. Djokovic owns three championships in the "Eternal City," as he and Nadal have combined to win the last 10 titles at this Masters 1000 tournament.
The Australian Open and Wimbledon champ Djokovic already owns three Masters titles this season.
Also in the second round, sixth-seeded Czech slugger Tomas Berdych blasted Italian wild card Matteo Donati 6-2, 6-4; seventh-seeded Spaniard and 2010 Rome runner-up David Ferrer dismissed recent Estoril champion Richard Gasquet of France 6-4, 7-5; eighth-seeded Swiss and 2008 runner-up Stan Wawrinka overcame Argentine Juan Monaco 4-6, 6-3, 6-2; and 15th-seeded South African Kevin Anderson was ahead of Philipp Kohlschreiber 3-0 in the first set when the German retired.
Thirteenth-seeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga subdued American Sam Querrey 7-6 (8-6), 6-0, while 14th-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut whipped fellow countryman Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-3 in opening-round play.
In other first-round action, Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez ousted ninth- seeded U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia 6-4, 6-3 and 11th-seeded Spanish left-hander Feliciano Lopez got past rising young Aussie Nick Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Kyrgios stunned Roger Federer at the Madrid Masters last week.
Additional first-round wins came for Serb Viktor Troicki, Belgian David Goffin, Brazilian qualifier Thomaz Bellucci and Ukrainian qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Several stars will take to the grounds for second-round matches on Wednesday, including top-five seeds Federer, red-hot Andy Murray, the French Open king Nadal and U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori.
The second-seeded three-time Rome runner-up Federer and Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas will meet in a rematch of the recent Istanbul final, which was won by the Swiss legend, while the Munich and Madrid Masters titlist Murray will face France's Jeremy Chardy, the fourth-seeded Nadal will encounter Turkish qualifier Marsel Ilhan, and the fifth-seeded Nishikori will tangle with Czech Jiri Vesely.
Murray beat Nadal in Sunday's finale in Madrid for his second clay-court title in two weeks.
The great Nadal is a seven-time Rome champion.