Rome, May 13 (EFE).- Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic struggled to put away Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime on Friday at the Italian Open but eventually secured a 7-5, 7-6 (7-1) victory to book his place in the semifinals.
The ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime put up a valiant fight, hanging close with the 20-time Grand Slam champion thanks to a potent first serve (11 aces for the contest and many other unreturnable serves) and to the service breaks he secured in the latter portions of both sets.
Djokovic notched the first break of serve of the match in the eighth game when the Canadian sent a forehand well over the baseline.
But the Serbian stumbled when serving at 5-3 and allowed his opponent to return the favor when he sent an errant backhand wide of the sideline.
The set appeared to be headed for a tiebreaker, but the world No. 1 seized control with his baseline game to break Auger-Aliassime a second time, wrapping up the set with a sharply angled forehand crosscourt winner.
The second set unfolded in similar fashion.
Djokovic notched the first service break of the set to grab a 4-2 lead, capping off a phenomenal rally on break point by hoisting a perfect backhand offensive lob out of the reach of his athletic opponent.
But instead of fading away, Auger-Aliassime lifted his level to nearly break the five-time Italian Open champion’s serve in the following game and then succeeded in doing so in the next opportunity when Djokovic misfired on a backhand.
With the players back on serve the quality of play rose to new heights, including a pair of incredible defensive plays by each player to hit clean winners off of apparent point-ending drop-shots.
This time, the set came down to a tiebreaker.
But instead of that decider offering more fireworks, it proved to be anti-climactic as the world No. 1 rolled to an easy victory with sublime play over that final stretch.
“I thought it was high-level tennis,” Djokovic said afterward. “He did ask me to raise the level and I had to play consistently well. I thought I could have finished the job earlier … but credit to him for fighting back. Amazing atmosphere as well tonight.”
Next up for Djokovic in the semifinals will be Norwegian world No. 10 Casper Ruud, who defeated Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (9-7), 7-5 on Friday.
By reaching the final four of this ATP Tour Masters 1000 event, the Serbian has ensured that he will remain the world No. 1 when the next rankings are released. A win against Ruud also will give him 1,000 match wins at the ATP Tour level.
The other semifinal will pit German world No. 3 Alexander Zverev against Greek world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
If Djokovic claims the title, he will notch a record-extending 38th ATP Tour Masters 1000 crown.
Earlier in the day, Polish world No. 1 Iga Swiatek ran her impressive winning streak to 26 straight matches with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 quarterfinal win over another Canadian player, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
She will next take on eighth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in Saturday’s semifinals, while the other final-four match will pit seventh-ranked Ons Jabeur against 23rd-ranked Daria Kasatkina. EFE