Coming for the king: Resurgent Djokovic sets Rome final with Nadal

Novak Djokovic completed a successful double header on Saturday, defeating Lorenzo Sonego to set a final clash with King of Clay Rafael Nadal.

Novak Djokovic at Rome in 2021
  • What happened: Novak Djokovic topped Lorenzo Sonego to reach his 11th Rome final.
  • Why it matters: The world No 1’s victory sets the 57th installment of the Nadal v Djokovic rivalry.
  • You will also learn: More about the history of Djokovic of Nadal, on clay, in finals, and in Rome.

Novak Djokovic marched past the last Italian standing to book a mouthwatering clash of the clay-court titans with Rafael Nadal at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Saturday. The Serb, who defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier on Saturday, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, topped Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 to improve to 11-1 lifetime in Rome semi-finals.

A battle all the way 

Sonego, who upset Andrey Rublev in his first of two matches on Saturday, was bidding to become the first Italian finalist at Rome since Adriano Panatta in 1978. The 26-year-old world No 33, fueled by the spirited crowd at the Foro Italico, gave Djokovic a run for his money, especially in the second set, which felt more like a boxing match, with both players exchanging blows.

Sonego saved all six break points he faced (one at 1-1, two at 3-3 and another three at 4-4) through his first five service games of the set to hold for 5-4. Though he had not earned a break point up to that point, Sonego earned two set points in the tenth game, but Djokovic held his nerve to level at 5-all. Djokovic broke through in the next game for 6-5, but the Serb couldn’t hold off a determined Sonego as he served for the match. Djokovic had a match point at 6-5, 40-30, and again two points later, but made errors to squander both opportunities. Sonego, buoyed by fervent support of the Italian faithful, finally broke through to force a breaker, and won it, 7-5.

“I think I bounced back really well after the second set,” said Djokovic. “I also had my chances and have only myself to blame for not closing the match in straight sets – could have and should have done it, but at the end of the day he was showing why he reached his first Masters semifinals. He’s a quality player, very dynamic – it’s not easy to play against him.”

54 minutes after his first match points, after methodically marching through the third set, Djokovic arrived at his third match point with Sonego serving at 2-5, 30-40. He converted it when Sonego netted a forehand, closing the riveting contest in two hours and 44 minutes.

Djokovic-Nadal: 57 and counting 

Djokovic’s successful double-header sets up the 57th meeting of Djokovic and Nadal.

“First of all I need to recover,” said Djokovic. “That’s what I’m focused on, honestly I don’t have much time and I played a lot of tennis so hopefully I’ll have fresh legs, because that’s what I definitely will need and it’s necessary to have a chance against Rafa.”

Here is a quick look inside the rivalry:

  • Head-to-head: Djokovic leads 29-27
  • Head-to-head in finals: Djokovic leads 16-12
  • Head-to-head on clay: Nadal leads 18-7 (current streak: 4)
  • Head-to-head at Rome: Nadal leads 5-3 (current streak: 2)
  • Head-to-head in Rome finals: Nadal leads 3-2
  • Head-to-head clay finals: Nadal leads 8-4 (current streak: 3)
  • Last 10 matches on clay: Nadal leads 6-4 (current streak: 4)
  • Last 10, all surfaces: Djokovic leads 6-4

The Master of Masters? 

Neither Djokovic or Nadal has claimed a Masters 1000 title in 2021, but that will change on Sunday. Either Djokovic will claim his 37th Masters title, leaving Nadal with 35, or Nadal will win and the pair will be tied with 36 each. Nadal will bid for his tenth title at Rome, while Djokovic will bid for his sixth.

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