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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 20, 2020

 
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic denied two set points in the opening set stopping Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-3 to roar into his 10th Rome final.

Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d'Italia Facebook

Fans returned to the stands for the Rome semifinals. Novak Djokovic greeted the scattered crowd stoking his competitive fire.

The top seed showed strong will and a stinging serve saving two set points in the opening set stopping Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-3 to roar into his 10th Rome final.

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The world No. 1 improved to 30-1 on the season raising his Rome record to 54-9 before a limited crowd on Court Centrale. Officials have allowed one thousand fans to attend today's semifinals and tomorrow's finals on Court Centrale.

The company suited the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

Djokovic will play for his record-extending 36th Masters championship tomorrow when he meets either Canadian Denis Shapovalov or Argentinean Diego Schwartzman, who shocked nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals yesterday.

The Australian Open champion will play for his fifth Rome title—and first since 2015—tomorrow.

A determined Djokovic denied set points when Ruud served for the first set at 5-4. Djokovic drilled 12 aces against one double fault erasing seven of eight break points he faced—including cracking aces on several of those break points.

It was a complicated conquest—Djokovic sparred with the chair umpire over ball marks, barked at his box, erupted in primal screams at times—but brought the intensity and fierce focus when it mattered most.

Ruud reads the court and the opponent shrewdly. Anticipating the top seed’s drop shot, Ruud showed a fast first step shoveling an angled reply for a break point. Handcuffed by Ruud’s topspin exacerbated by a funky bounce near the baseline, Djokovic sailed a forehand giving up the break and a 2-1 lead.

Attacking the Serbian’s two-hander with deep diagonal forehands, Ruud rattled out some errors backing up the break in the fourth game.

The overhead is arguably the weakest link in the world No. 1’s lofty game. Ruud tested the Serbian’s smash with three lobs in the sixth game. Churning through a 10-and-a-half minute hold, Ruud repelled two break points and banged an ace down the middle to go up 4-2.

Serving for the set, Ruud showed his explosiveness going line to line with an inside-in forehand setting up the inside-out forehand for double set point.

Djokovic drew an error to save the first then dabbed a drop shot winner to deny the second.




Targeting the Norwegian’s weaker backhand wing, the four-time champion drew a pair of backhand errors breaking back for 5-all.

The 11th game saw both men earn opportunities. Ruud earned three break points and a defiant Djokovic saved two of them with aces.

Amping up his aggression Djokovic worked through a grueling 12-minute hold firing his fourth ace for 6-5. By then, the back of the Serbian’s white shirt was streaked with patches of red clay as he tumbled to the dirt lunging for a stretch volley.




Italy is Simona Halep’s favorite vacation destination.

Ruud’s grunt turned to groan when he steered a crosscourt backhand wide to face a set point in the 12th game.

Wristing back a forehand stretch return, Djokovic drew a wild forehand error to snatch the 71-minute opener with a sustained primal scream. A fired-up Djokovic walked to his court side seat shouting at his box as if imploring them to make more noise.

Snuffing out Ruud’s surprise serve-and-volley, Djokovic lifted another deft drop shot winner for a second break point in the second game. Ruud replied with a drop shot of his own eventually standing strong to level.

Growing ornery after a couple of run-ins with the chair umpire over disputed ball marks, Djokovic drew an audible obscenity warning after Ruud ripped a forehand drive volley for break point. Djokovic laced the line with a forehand then shouted at the chair umpire.




A second swing volley winner gave Ruud a third break point in the third game. Djokovic, as he had done twice in the opening set, erased it with a stinging serve down the T to help him hold.

Looking like a man shot out of a revolving door, Ruud pulled off the shot of the tournament so far—a full spinning smash holding for 2-all.

Though Ruud hit highlight shots to stay close, Djokovic continued driving through his groundstrokes hammering out the first break of the set for a 4-2 lead.




The world No. 34 saved two match points firing a forehand down the line do deny the second and hang tough holding for 3-5 and forcing Djokovic to serve out the semifinal.


Djokovic slid his 12th ace down the middle for a third match point closing a two hour, 11-minute battle at love congratulating Ruud on his breakthrough tournament in the post-match racquet tap.

 

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