The Spaniard has to win in Rome in order to get the number 1 ranking back from Roger Federer after the Swissman managed to get on top of the charts following Nadal's loss in Madrid.
"After a loss in Madrid, it's important to come back strong". Should both players win two more matches, it will set up a last-four clash between rivals more accustomed to meeting in the Italian Open final.
The former world number one, whose 21-match unbeaten run on clay ended last week, had a first-round bye and will play Denis Shapovalov or Robin Haase next. Djokovic will play Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who rallied past eighth-seeded John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5). Nadal routed 31st-ranked Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-0, while Djokovic beat Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.
"We're finally connecting and I think that's the most attractive thing", Fognini said of the crowd, which whistled him off the court following an erratic performance a few years ago.
Third seed Grigor Dimitrov did not have a birthday to remember as he fell 7-6 (4), 5-7, 4-6 to Kei Nishikori.
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Simmons, Utah shooting guard Donovan Mitchell and Boston small forward Jayson Tatum are the rookie-of-the-year finalists. The Rockets' Eric Gordon - the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year - was again named a finalist for the award.
In other seeded action, second-seeded German Alexander Zverev bested Italian wild card Matteo Berrettini 7-5, 6-2.
"But I think in Rome it's a little bit different". "They finally understand me".
Thiem was already looking ahead to the French Open, which starts on May 27. And I knew she knew I couldn't hit a backhand, so we were just having backhand rallies.
Djokovic, meanwhile, has now secured convincing back-to-back wins in Rome as the Serbian continues to feel his way back after the elbow injury that kept him sidelined for half of last season and prolonged spells this year. In the middle of the sixth game the Chair Umpire over-ruled a call after inspecting the point where the ball landed. He broke in the 11th game and later served out the set.
The results: Second round: Women: Simona Halep bt Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-0; Caroline Garcia bt Timea Babos 6-3, 6-4; Sloane Stephens bt Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 5-7, 6-4; Darya Kasatkina bt Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-3; Madison Keys bt Donna Vekic 7-6 (2), 7-6 (0); Sloane Stephens bt Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 5-7, 6-4; Johanna Konta bt Hsieh Su-Wei 6-0, 6-4; Maria Sakkari bt Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.