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Novak Djokovic, who beat Diego Schwartzman, 7-5, 6-3, in Rome to win a record 36th ATP Masters title, heads for Paris as worried as everyone else in the game that at least two players trying to qualify for the French Open have tested positive for Covid-19.
The US Open just about escaped from under the cloud of the pandemic in New York, but a minor outbreak in the locker room at Roland Garros during qualifying this week has cast a pall over the final slam of the season, scheduled to start on Sunday against the backdrop of a rising curve in the virus throughout France.
“It was a very challenging week,” the five-times Rome champion said courtside. “I don’t think I played my best tennis all week, but found it when I needed it, that fifth gear. Now for Paris.”
The French Tennis Federation refused to confirm the identity of the players on Monday despite rumours circulating in the Spanish press. Those removed from the players’ list for seven days were the Spaniard Bernabé Zapata Miralles, the Serb Pedja Krstin and Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur, who lost to Djokovic in the first round of the US Open. On Monday evening, the FFT said a female qualifier had also tested positive but did not name the individual.
A year ago, Schwartzman took Djokovic to three competitive sets in the semi-finals here, then lost to him in straight sets in the fourth round of the 2020 Australian Open. The 5ft 7in Argentinian hustler started the Rome final a decided underdog in a windy drizzle on a cool afternoon. However, Schwartzman – who lost in five sets to Cam Norrie in the first round of the recent US Open – broke twice to lead 3-0 after just 20 minutes, bullying the world No 1 across the baseline with piercing groundstrokes, wide and deep, as he had done against the under-done Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
When Djokovic found a rhythm, Schwartzman, his legs tired from a tough campaign, lost focus. Djokovic levelled at three-all and held his opponent’s robust, ragged challenge at bay to eke out the first set in an hour and 10 minutes. The second was quicker but followed a similar pattern, as Schwartzman pushed Djokovic all the way to the line. He saved two of three match points before nudging a final overheated forehand reply on the run to Djokovic’s umpteenth drop shot wide.
Earlier, the women’s final ended in anticlimax when the defending champion, Karolina Pliskova, had to quit in tears with a lower back injury after half an hour, handing the title to Simona Halep, who was 6-0, 2-1 up.
Asked about the health scare in Paris – where she won the first of her two slams in 2018 – Halep said: “Of course it worries me but I’m sure that measures will take place there and we’ll be safe enough to play. After I get there I will have a better feeling.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Novak Djokovic takes Rome title but all eyes on French Open Covid tests | Tennis