ROME (REUTERS) - Defending champion Novak Djokovic scraped over his first hurdle at the Rome Masters with a 6-1 6-7(5) 6-3 victory over Spanish claycourt specialist Nicolas Almagro on Tuesday.
The world number one, given a bye into the second round, was in total control as he swept through the opening set at the Foro Italico, but the aggressive Almagro settled down to his task and made the Serb work hard for an 18th consecutive Tour victory.
Djokovic looked poised for victory when he built a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak but Almagro fought back and when Djokovic netted a tame forehand at 5-5 Almagro seized his chance, clinching the second set with a powerful first serve.
Almagro, who missed the second half of last year after foot surgery and has slipped to 174th in the rankings, continued to worry Djokovic with his power at the start of the third set.
Djokovic kept his nose in front on serve though and broke in the eighth game after winning a long baseline exchange.
The three-times Rome champion completed the job on his second match point when Almagro fired a backhand long.
Former Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka also reached the third round but was also stretched before overcoming Argentina's Juan Monaco 4-6 6-3 6-2.
Ninth seed Marin Cilic was the highest-ranked casualty, losing in straight sets to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
In the women's event Maria Sharapova wasted little energy as she moved into the third round. The Russian, seeded three, was 6-2 3-1 ahead when Australian opponent Jarmila Gajdosova retired.
Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams plays in the evening session against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.