ROME, May 18, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic faced his second straight Argentine opponent, unseeded Diego Schwartzman, in the second semifinal of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Saturday evening in Rome. At stake for the winner was the right to play eight-time champion and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s final at Foro Italico.
Once again, the four-time Rome champion Djokovic prevailed during another late night on Campo Centrale. This time, Djokovic survived with a 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3 win over Schwartzman that lasted two hours and 32 minutes. It enabled the native of Belgrade, Serbia, to reach his ninth Rome final and play in his 49th Masters 1000 title match.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 18. Mai 2019
“It’s obvious that I played more than Rafa. At the same time, I’m in the finals and that’s a great success,” said Djokovic after his win over Schwartzman, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It’s not the first time I find myself in these kinds of situations. I feel okay, (but) of course not as fresh as at the beginning of the week. It is what it is. I’ll try to recover for tomorrow.”
Following a thrilling three-hour, one-minute quarterfinal victory over Juan Martín del Potro that began late Friday night and spilled into the early hours of Saturday morning, Djokovic brought into his match with the 24th-ranked Schwartzman the momentum from winning his record-tying 33rd ATP Masters 1000 title last weekend in Madrid. As for the 5-foot-7 Schwartzman, he was playing in just his first Masters 1000 semifinal and for just the second time during the tournament on Campo Centrale.
“I’m glad for Diego. A great guy and player, but I’m just going to recover first,” Djokovic said during his press conference early Saturday after beating del Potro, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4.
Meanwhile, it was a breakthrough week for Schwartzman, who advanced to play Djokovic after beating No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2 in Friday’s quarterfinal round. It was the Argentine’s first Top 6 win of his career. Just one of his eight sets before Saturday night had gone past 6-4. Like Djokovic, Schwartzman doubled up and played two matches on Thursday. He beat both Albert Ramos-Vinolas from Spain and Matteo Berrettini of Italy in straight sets. Despite losing to Djokovic, it added up to a tournament filled with good results for Schwartzman, who was ranked No. 12 at this time a year ago.
Against Djokovic, Schwartzman was looking to achieve back-to-back Top 10 wins for the first time. “I didn’t start the clay season well, and I needed two matches in a row of playing good tennis,” he said on Friday after being Nishikori. “I’m very happy to get back (my confidence), to feel good again. It was really important for me. (Thursday) was a big day for me.”
Djokovic won the 36-minute opening set 6-3 on his second set-point opportunity, after breaking Schwartzman in the eighth game to go ahead. He succeeded on 80 percent of his service points and did not face any break points.
Then, in the 76-minute second set, Schwartzman challenged Djokovic point after point. He attacked the World No. 1’s groundstrokes by hitting some pretty accurate returns that excited the crowd. However, the Argentine wasn’t able to put away the Serbian and extend the match to a third set – just yet. After leading 4-2 and, again, 5-3, Djokovic broke Schwartzman twice after being broken himself twice. After Djokovic leveled the set at 5-all, Schwartzman held at 15 to set up another opportunity at pushing the envelope to a final set. But, Djokovic held for a second straight time to force a tie-break.
On serve at 3-2 in the tie-break, Schwartzman broke Djokovic on consecutive points to go ahead 5-2. A long return by Djokovic gave Schwartzman four set points and the Argentine converted on the first one when his opponent hit a backhand long to win the tie-break 7-2.
With Djokovic reestablishing confidence in his serve and holding for a 3-2 lead in the final set, he broke Schwartzman for the fourth time in the match to pull ahead 4-2. The Serbian set up the break point with a sliding, cross-court forehand winner from a far-right angle at the net that Schwartzman was unable to get a racquet on. Then, Djokovic found the lines when the game was on the line in his next service game and held for a 5-2 advantage. After the Argentine held at 15, it set up Djokovic serving for the match. Although it took two match points to wrap up the win, the top seed did the trick – and it set up the 54th meeting on Sunday between Djokovic and Nadal, which the World No. 1 leads the career head-to-head 28-25.
“He keeps on showing to the world why he’s one of the biggest legends of tennis history,” Djokovic said of his longtime rival Nadal. “I have the greatest respect for him. He’s my greatest rival of all time, for sure. … Every time we get to play each other, it’s a thrill. It’s the ultimate challenge.”
Singles semifinals / Campo Centrale
No. 1 Novak Djokovic d. Diego Schwartzman, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3
No. 2 Rafael Nadal d. No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 6-4
Sunday’s order of play
Singles final / Campo Centrale
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal, NB 4 p.m.