Djokovic Ends Ruud’s Run In Rome

WASHINGTON, September 20, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

For more than two hours, upstart Casper Ruud gave World No.1 Novak Djokovic all he could handle on Sunday afternoon at Foro Italico. He had set points against the top-seeded Serbian in the opening set of his semifinal match on Centrale. However, it was Djokovic’s experience – and his ability to think his way through difficultly – that lifted him to a 7-5, 6-3 victory over the 21-year-old from Norway and into Monday’s final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.

With his 30th victory of the season, Djokovic (30-1) is now just one win from a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 trophy. Saving two set points in the first set against Ruud seemed to energize Djokovic, who improved to 10-1 in Rome semifinals. He’s won the Rome title four times (2008, 2011, 2014, 2015).

“It is super important [to win the title],” said Djokovic during an on-court interview after he fired 12 service aces and outpointed Ruud 89-74. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t take anything for granted, even after 15 years on the Tour. I still enjoy it.

“I still have a hunger for the titles and putting myself in a position to fight for the titles is exactly where I want to be.”

During his virtual post-match interview Ruud was asked what he liked and didn’t like about his performance. He said: “I did a good job going out there thinking it was not Djokovic on the other side. Of course, I respect him and the other great champions. You try not to have that mentality of being too afraid, too respectful for them.“

En route to his semifinal finish, the unseeded and 34th-ranked Ruud upset 11th seed Karen Khachanov, Lorenzo Sonego, Marin Cilic and fourth seed Matteo Berrettini.

“I went out and played a good beginning of the match, a good first set. … I was close to winning it with two set points, but once again, [Novak] showed why he’s such a good player – a good champion. He’s always clutch on the big points,” said Ruud.

“I had some other break points when he came up with some big serves and hit a couple of aces. I guess that’s why he’s so good and he has some more experience than I have.”

Djokovic to face Schwartzman for Rome title

In Monday’s final, Djokovic, who has dropped just one set in Rome, will be opposed by No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman, who has reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final in his 35th try and has a chance to crack the Top 10.

In a highly entertaining and at times contentious match that kept the after-dark Centrale crowd on the edge of their seats, it took a third-set tiebreak to decide the outcome between the 14-ranked Denis Shapovalov from Canada and No. 15 Schwartzman of Argentina. After three hours and 15 minutes – including a one hour and 27-minute third set, alone – Schwartzman backed up his quarterfinal victory over Rafael Nadal – “It’s my best match ever” – with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) triumph over Shapovalov to move into the championship match against Djokovic.

During an on-court interview after his Sunday night victory, Schwartzman expressed his joy. He said: “I’m very, very happy. I think today was a crazy match, it was really tough for us. On my side I’m very happy because I have the win.”

How close was the match? Schwartzman outpointed Shapovalov by a single point, 113-112, but he’s glad to still be playing.

“If I win I’m going to be Top 10, so I just need to rest. That’s why I was fighting this match, because I need those points to be close to the Top 10 and to be close to Denis. Maybe [it will happen] tomorrow, maybe the next tournaments, but that was in my mind the whole match,” said Schwartzman, who is 6-3 in three-set matches this season and 7-3 in his last 10 against lefties. “I think that’s why I won, because I was fighting. I was not playing all the match my best tennis, but I felt like I took the chances at the end and that’s why I won.”

Later during his virtual press conference, Schwartzman added: “The tie-break was difficult, but I think in the tie-break I played better than him. Maybe in the third set he played better than me and deserved to win before, but at the end, in the tie-break, I think I was very solid.”

Meanwhile, Shapovalov, who was looking to reach his second Masters 1000 final, found positives despite a tough loss.

”I’m a perfectionist, so I expect a lot from myself. I’m disappointed with today, but Diego is one of the greatest clay court players out there right now,” said Shapovalov during his virtual press conference.

“It’s big for my part to be able to go toe-to-toe against him from the back despite struggling with my serve. I think it shows great improvement from me, and I’m really, really pleased with the way I was able to play.”

Granollers and Zeballos win third title of the season

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos are nearly unbeatable on clay – 16-1 this season – and on Sunday, they proved it by winning their third doubles title of the year to go with earlier triumphs in Buenos Aires and Rio. On Sunday, Granollers of Spain and Zeballos from Argentina beat the all-French team of Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin, 6-4, 5-7, 10-8, to capture their second ATP Masters 1000 trophy as a team.

From 8-all in the third set, a Zeballos forehand return winner followed by a Granollers forehand volley winner clinched the championship.

Nadal looks to regroup before Roland Garros