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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 18, 2020

 
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic reached his 14th consecutive Rome final with a 7-6(7), 6-3 conquest of compatriot Filip Krajinovic at the Foro Italico.

Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d'Italia

Smacking the hoop of his Head racquet against the soles of his shoes, Novak Djokovic was intent on shedding clumps of clay from his treads and shaking the shadow of compatriot Filip Krajinovic.

After a tense first set, Djokovic cleaned up his act considerably reaching his 14th consecutive Rome final with a 7-6(7), 6-3 conquest of Krajinovic at the Foro Italico.

More: Rome Will Allow Limited Fans For Semifinals, Finals

“I knew he is in great form, obviously my second match on clay, I still haven’t started this match the way I really wanted," Djokovic said after the match. "I made a lot of unforced errors but also credit to him for being aggressive and pushing me to the limit.'

The world No. 1 improved to 28-1 on the season advancing to his 85th career Masters quarterfinal.




The four-time Rome champion will face 
German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the quarterfinals.

The 97th-ranked Koepfer won seven straight games closing a 6-4, 6-0 sweep of red-hot Italian qualifier Lorenzo Musetti. The 18-year-old Musetti, who posted wins over Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori this week, was bothered by a shoulder issue in the second set.

It's been a career week for Koepfer, the first qualifer to reach the Rome quarterfinals since 2009 when qualifiers Juan Monaco and Mischa Zverev both reached the last eight. Koepfer fought off a match point topping Alex de Minaur then scored his first career Top 10 win over Gael Monfils last night.

Ten years after Djokovic retired from his only prior meeting vs. Krajinovic, he played touchy-feely tennis for much of the first set. Repeatedly playing the drop shot as if knowing Krajinovic conventionally replies crosscourt, Djokovic was a bit sloppy and stilted at times in the opening set.

Djokovic committed 27 unforced errors in the first set compared to six in the second.

Familiarity between the friends and Davis Cup teammates was clear despite the fact this was just their second professional meeting. Krajinovic broke to open and Djokovic answered breaking right back.

Between Krajinovic’s counterstrikes and periods of patchy play from Djokovic, the four-time Rome champion couldn’t fully find his groove in the opening set. 

Playing the drop shot frequently, Djokovic used the drop shot-lob combination for a fifth break point in the fourth game, but Krajinovic refused to crack.

Both men were threatening serve throughout the set with Djokovic dodging a couple of break points then drilling a diagonal forehand for a 4-3 hold. By then, the pair had combined to save 11 of 13 break points.

Showing an athletic burst in the 10th game, Krajinovic saved a set point with a leaping smash. Djokovic went to the drop shot again—by then he was in double digits in droppers—but this time Krajinovic was onto it and shoveled an angled reply winner to save a second set point.

Djokovic again drew his opponent forward, but Krajinovic dug in and showed stubborn strength navigating a near nine-minute grueling hold to draw even after 10 games.

Seventh-three minutes and 106 points into a physical set the pair launched the tiebreaker.

When Djokovic spit up his fourth double fault, he fell into a 1-4 hole in the tiebreaker. Four Krajinovic errors and a Djokovic forehand winner put the eight-time Australian Open champion ahead.

A crackling rally—one of longest in match—ended with Krajinovic missing when he tried changing direction down the line to give Djokovic his third set point. The top seed double faulted away the set point as they changed sides again.

A heavy serve elicited an error as Djokovic earned his fourth set point but Krajinovic erased it with a drop volley. This time, Krajinovic tightened up on serve dumping his first double fault to face a fifth set point.

Krajinovic sailed a forehand as Djokovic finally closed an adventurous 87-minute set tha saw him scatter an uncharacteristic 27 unforced errors. Accompanied by coach Marian Vajda in Rome, Djokovic kept his cool and did not show signs of frustration during that tense opening set.




It was Djokovic’s 24th tiebreaker win in his last 25 breakers as he raised his 2020 tiebreaker record to 11-1.

“It was definitely one of the longest sets I think I’ve ever played," Djokovic said after the match.

The one-set lead loosened up the world No. 1 who was swinging more freely and striking his forehand more forcefully as he broke for a 2-1 second-set lead. Streaking forward, Djokovic knocked off a high forehand volley that helped him hold for 4-2.

Djokovic, who was three of 13 on break-point conversions, broke to close in two hours, seven minutes raising his Rome record to 52-9.

"I think the first set could have gone a different way for me as well, fortunately for me it went my way and that has allowed me to swing through the ball a bit more in the second set," Djokovic said. "Maybe physically and mentally he dropped a level and I used my opportunities and kind of capitalized to win in straight sets.”

An Open-Era record tying four Italian men reached the round of 16 in Rome.

In an all-Italian clash, Rome resident Matteo Berrettini beat wild card Stefano Travaglia 7-6(5), 7-6(1) advancing to his first career Rome quarterfinal.

The fourth-seeded Berrettini, who had not beaten Travaglia in three prior meetings all at the Futures level, is through to his second career Masters quarterfinal. The 2019 US Open semifinalist will face Casper Ruud for a spot in the final four.

Buenos Aires champion Ruud continues flying the Norwegian flag high. The 21-year-old Ruud, one of five players age 22 and under into the round of 16, topped Marin Cilic 6-2, 7-6(6).

It is Ruud’s first career Masters quarterfinal and comes 23 years after his father and coach, Christian Ruud, contested the Monte-Carlo quarterfinals.




No. 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov ended the inspired run of Italian wild card Jannik Sinner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Dimitrov served for the match at 5-4, was broken then broke back for the fourth time to seal a hard-fought win.

A 2014 Rome semifinalist, Dimitrov will take on US Open quarterfinalist Denis Shapovalov in a shotmakers shootout for a semifinal spot.




The 12th-seeded Canadian won a clash of left-handers out-dueling Ugo Humbert 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4. The 21-year-old Shapovalov is through to his fourth quarterfinal of the season and fifth Masters quarterfinal.


 

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