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Djokovic and Federer show improved form in Rome

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ANDREW DAMPF | May 14, 2013 05:11 PM EST | AP

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ROME — Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer appear back on track after early losses in Madrid last week. Serena Williams, meanwhile, is maintaining her dominance.

Top-ranked Djokovic quickly overcame an early break to cruise past Spanish qualifier Albert Montanes 6-2, 6-3 and second-seeded Federer routed Italian wild card Potito Starace 6-1, 6-2 Tuesday to reach the third round of the Italian Open.

In the women's tournament, the top-ranked Williams brushed aside Laura Robson 6-2, 6-2 a day after the rising British player had beaten her sister, Venus Williams.

Djokovic dropped his serve to fall behind 2-1 in the opening set but broke back immediately and took control from there against his 32-year-old opponent.

The six-time Grand Slam champion didn't appear to have any problem with his right ankle, which he twisted while representing Serbia in the Davis Cup in April then appeared to hurt again in a loss to Grigor Dimitrov at the Madrid Open last week.

"It was a good performance for a start, although I know I can do better," Djokovic said. "My game has to be better for the next challenge. I didn't have a good week in Madrid but I came here early and did a lot of practice."

Djokovic didn't practice for 12 days between winning the Monte Carlo Masters in April and the start of the Madrid tournament.

"I was playing with a degree of injury," he said. "With Paris and London coming up I need to be 100 percent. ... the positive thing is that my ankle is well and I'm playing without pain, and I did not want an injury in the most important part of the year."

Djokovic has reached the final in four of the five past years at the Foro Italico, winning the title in 2008 and 2011.

Federer has never won in Rome, with his best results being two runner-up finishes. He lost the 2003 final to Felix Mantila and in 2006 dropped a fifth-set tiebreaker to Rafael Nadal.

After a seven-week break from the tennis circuit, Federer returned to action last week and got his clay-court season off to a difficult start with a third-round loss to Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Against Starace, however, Federer never struggled, with the Foro Italico crowd's support for the local favorite proving useless.

"I feel the way I want to feel," Federer said. "I'm happy that from start to finish I was able to control the outcome of the match."

Williams has won her past three tournaments but her only title at this event came in 2002.

A former Wimbledon junior champion, the 39th-ranked Robson broke in the opening game of the match and tested Williams with her left-handed strokes, but the American eventually overpowered her. Robson hit several costly double faults.

"It wasn't an easy match. There were a lot of balls flying back and forth," Williams said. "I knew she had a lot of potential but, playing against her, she has more potential than I thought. She doesn't have too many weaknesses, so that's a good sign of a future champion."

Also reaching the third round were seventh-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia 6-3, 6-2; and ninth-seeded Richard Gasquet, who defeated Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4; while Kevin Anderson of South Africa eliminated 11th-seeded Marin Cilic 6-3, 7-6 (7)

Two seeded players were upset in the first round.

Julien Benneteau of France dispatched 12th-seeded Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (2), 6-4; and Mikhail Youzhny beat 13th-seeded Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-3 in a matchup of tour veterans.

In other first-round matches, 15th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka – fresh off a runner-up result in Madrid – rallied past Carlos Berlocq of Argentina 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

In the women's second round, Simona Halep of Romania upset fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-2; and eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova overcame a second-set lapse to beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-4, 0-6, 7-5.

In the opening round, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki lost to 48th-ranked Bojana Jovanovski 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

The 10th-seeded Wozniacki wasted a 5-2 lead in the third-set tiebreaker. The Dane has struggled on clay this season, losing to Yaroslava Shvedova in the first round in Madrid and to Carla Suarez Navarro in her first match last month in Stuttgart, Germany.

Meanwhile, Urszula Radwanska of Poland ousted 15th-seeded Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-2; and 16th-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States dispatched local favorite Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-3.