Djokovic recovers from slow start, ends Ruud’s run in Rome

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Novak Djokovic survives a tough first set his Rome semi-final on Sunday and goes on to defeat Casper Ruud after more than two hours of play.
  • Internazionali BNL d’Italia semi-final

  • Djokovic d. Ruud 7-5, 6-3

  • Key info: Djokovic struck 12 aces and saved seven of eight break points
  • You will also learn: Djokovic continues his career-long success at Masters 1000 events
  • Why you should read this story: Although straight sets, it was far from routine in multiple ways

Novak Djokovic advanced to the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia with a straight-set victory over Casper Ruud on Sunday afternoon. Djokovic saved two set points in the opener and ended up prevailing after two hours and 11 minutes.

It was a competitive contest between the world No 1 and the clay-loving Ruud, played in front of not more than 1,000 fans at the Foro Italico.

“I definitely missed the fans,” Djokovic said afterward. “I think every player on both tours missed them. Hopefully we’ll get to see them at other tournaments, as well. That’s also a good sign with the whole COVID situation. Hopefully things are improving in this country and in other countries.”

Things are certainly improving for the Serb, who has bounced back from his premature US Open exit with this strong showing in Rome. He also raised his level after going to three sets with qualifier Dominik Koepfer during quarter-final action on Saturday.

First-set drama

That is not to say it was easy against Ruud — not by any stretch. In fact, the Norwegian led 5-3 in the opening set after seizing the day’s first break at 1-1. He even had two set points on his own serve at 5-4, 40-15 but could not scrape his way past the finish line. Djokovic eventually broke back for 5-5 and from there he never relinquished momentum. The top seed survived six deuces and three break points at 5-5 before breaking Ruud again in the 12th game to clinch the set.

Second set more routine…sort of

Djokovic did not have quite as much trouble in the second — at least not with Ruud. Chair umpire Adel Nour made three controversial line calls in the span of 10 minutes, all of which went against what Hawkeye and none of which went in Djokovic’s favor.

The title favorite (now that Rafael Nadal is out) held all five of his service games in set two, so one break at 3-2 proved to be enough. It could have been slightly quicker, but Ruud fought off two match points and persevered through a service game that lasted five deuces at 2-5. That only delayed the inevitable, though as Djokovic wrapped up the proceedings in style with a love service hold at 5-3.

“It was tough two-setter,” the 33-year-old reflected. “I definitely had to work hard for the points. The second set was much better; I got used to the windy conditions and started swinging through the ball better. He trains at Nadal Academy, so it’s similar patterns on clay. In the beginning it was quite tricky to understand how his shots were coming and his positioning on the court. But I am really pleased how I was able to overcome this challenge.”

Djokovic’s reward is a 52nd appearance in the final of a Masters 1000 tournament, including his 10th in Rome. He will go for his fifth title at the event on Monday against either Diego Schwartzman or Denis Shapovalov.

“Obviously it’s super important,” Djokovic said of the Rome title. “I don’t take anything for granted even after 15 years on tour. Putting myself in position for a title is exactly where I want to be. Both guys are in tremendous form; Diego played the match of his life yesterday and Denis is also in great form. I’ll be ready.”

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