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Dream Run: Sonego Sets Up Djokovic Rematch in Rome

By Richard Pagliaro

Champions realize dream days on court.

Chasing the biggest championship of his career, Lorenzo Sonego continues a dream-defying run in Rome.

More: Opelka on Beauty and Brutality in Rome

The Turin-born baseliner thrilled home fans surprising Andrey Rublev 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to surge into his first Masters 1000 semifinal on the red clay of Rome. Sonego set up a rematch with Novak Djokovic for a spot in Sunday's final seven months after he swept the world No. 1 in Vienna to reach the final where he lost to Rublev.

Today, Sonego showed the same stubborn spirit he displayed overcoming apparent cramps to topple 14th-seeded Gael Monfils in his opener before battling by US Open champion Dominic Thiem in an epic three hour, 34-minute round of 16 match.

Asked if he dreamed of reaching a Rome semifinal growing up playing on Turin's red clay, Sonego had a quick response.

"No. I start to play tennis at 11 years old," Sonego said. "[To reach] semifinal in Rome, my favorite tournament in the world, I'm with my people here. So happy for this because I played every point. Yeah, I'm really happy."

The 26-year-old Sonego saved 11 of the 13 break points he faced, fired some key strikes down the line, exploited the Russian's net play with the drop shot and managed the clock shrewdly in a two hour, 33 minute triumph.

Tennis Express

Exhorted by home fans, including a pack of five guys behind the baseline who served as personal back-up band, Sonego showed his spirit setting up a blockbuster semifinal rematch vs. Novak Djokovic.

World No. 1 Djokovic broke back when Stefanos Tsitsipas served for the match at 5-4 winning the final three games of a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory completing a quarterfinal that began Friday and was suspended due to rain.

Home soil has inspired Sonego's most passionate play.

Last month, Sonego swept singles and doubles titles on Cagliari's clay, becoming the first Italian singles champion on home soil since 2006 and first Italian doubles champion on home ground since 2005. 

That victory vaulted Sonego to a career-high No. 28 and he's matched that mark in the live rankings with this inspired Rome run. Now, Sonego is one win from becoming the first Italian man to reach the Rome final since legendary Adriano Panatta, the only man to beat Bjorn Borg twice at Roland Garros, did it in 1978.

Five-time Rome champion Djokovic will be pumped to avenge one of the most shocking losses of his career. Sonego swept Djokovic 6-2, 6-1 roaring into the first ATP 500-level semifinal of his career in Vienna last October. Though truth be told the top-seeded Serbian didn't look fully-engaged the last time he faced Sonego.

Sonego smacked eight aces and saved all six points he faced in a near-flawless 68-minute triumph over Djokovic on Vienna's hard court that left him almost speechless afterward.

In this rematch on Rome's red clay, Djokovic should be bring more energy and Sonego will be riding a wave of emotional support from home fans in what could be a raucous Rome Saturday night.

"Well, it's a very emotional moment for me, play in semifinal with Novak," Sonego said. "He's unbelievable player. He's the best in the world. I want to do my best. I'm happy because I am in semifinal. I want to really play this match."

Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d'Italia