Novak Djokovic into Italian Open semi-final with comeback win over Felix Auger-Aliassime
ROME — It was just the type of scrambling, attrition and shooting mentality that brought Novak Djokovic within one game of a calendar year Grand Slam in 2021.
A show that has been missed so much this year when Djokovic did not play because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Top-ranked Djokovic lifted the Foro Italico crowd with several memorable points in a 7-5, 7-6(1) win over Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the Open semis. Italy Friday.
To conclude a long rally, Djokovic produced a tricky backhand topspin lob winner on the Auger-Aliassime jump to break serve and lead 4-2 in the second set.
Djokovic celebrated the lob winner by raising both arms above his head, then urged the packed Campo Centrale crowd to clap louder by gesturing with his hands.
“It was top level tennis,” Djokovic said. “He asked me to raise the level and I had to play well regularly.”
While still in search of his first title of the year, Djokovic was secured by victory to retain the No. 1 ranking for another week and be seeded at Roland Garros.
Second-placed Daniil Medvedev can no longer overtake Djokovic in Monday’s standings update.
Roland Garros starts in nine days and Djokovic is preparing for his first Grand Slam tournament of the year after being kicked out of Australia ahead of the Australian Open.
Playing ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime for the first time, Djokovic was slow to start reading the Canadian competitor’s big serve. Then he stepped up his game and hit an unbalanced cross forehand to break through and win the first set.
Auger-Aliassime showed some touch early on when he retired a winner of a backhand half volley to wrap up a long rally in game two.
In the end, however, it was Djokovic – playing in his 16th consecutive quarter-final at the clay-court tournament – who took all the big points. Like when he ran two smashes and responded with two defensive lobs before stepping in to whip out a cross backhand in the tiebreaker.
Djokovic’s semi-final opponent will be Casper Ruud, who beat Denis Shapovalov 7-6(7), 7-5.
Shapovalov knocked out ten-time Roma champion Rafael Nadal on Thursday, who was suffering from a chronic left foot injury.
Additionally, fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas served 10 aces to defeat Jannik Sinner 7-6(5), 6-2 to reach his third straight Masters semi-final on clay.
Tsitsipas will face Alexander Zverev in their third semi-final over the past month after the 2017 champion beat Cristian Garin 7-5, 6-2.
Tsitsipas kept his cool as nearly the entire crowd of 10,500 fans backed Sinner, the 13th-ranked Italian player considered a future Grand Slam contender. But Sinner, 20, fell 0-12 in his career against top-five ranked opponents.
Sinner was treated by a physical trainer after twisting his left hip during the final point of the first set. His body is still developing physically.
“That’s where the gap is,” Sinner said. “In terms of tennis, I’m there. Physically, I have to improve.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.