Djokovic Sets Blockbuster Nadal Final After Sonego Epic
Hours after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals, top seed Novak Djokovic triumphed in a semi-final epic against Italian Lorenzo Sonego to reach his 10th final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
World No. 1 Djokovic was up a set and a break against Sonego and held match points in the second set, but he was in for a battle as the Italian dug deep and rallied Campo Centrale to send them the distance. But the five-time Rome champion raised his level in the deciding set to seal the victory 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 after two hours and 43 minutes.
"I have only myself to blame for not closing the match in two sets," Djokovic said. "At the end of the day, he is showing why he reached his first [ATP Masters 1000] semi-finals. He's a quality player. [It is] not easy to play against him. Obviously he had the crowd behind him. It was an electric atmosphere out there on the court."
The defending champion booked a mouthwatering 56th clash against rival Rafael Nadal in the championship match. Nadal and Djokovic have won 14 of the past 16 editions of this event and will meet for the ninth time at the Foro Italico on Sunday (Nadal leads 5-3).
"I don't have much time [to recover], I played a lot of tennis," Djokovic said. "Hopefully I'll have fresh legs, because that's what I definitely will need. It's necessary in order to have a chance against Rafa.
"He also had some tough matches, obviously myself, with rain delays and everything that has happened today. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be fresh and I'll give it all."
The Serbian was made to do double duty after yesterday’s rain halted his quarter-final match against Tsitsipas, but Djokovic returned to the Foro Italico on Saturday and came back from a set and a break down to claim a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory.
Up against Sonego, who defeated him in their only previous ATP Head2Head encounter last year in Vienna, Djokovic had to be on fire from the outset to weather the Italian’s highlight-reel worthy drop shots and forehands and secure a record 53rd ATP Masters 1000 final berth.
After defeating seventh seed Andrey Rublev earlier in the day, Sonego set the tone early on against Djokovic with a perfectly disguised drop shot in the very first point, and Djokovic responded by racing up to the net to track it down for a winner. As the partisan crowd roared for their home favourite, Djokovic applied the pressure and used his backhand to dictate play, earning the decisive break at 2-1 in the opening set.
Djokovic must have read the scouting report on Sonego, because he was ready for the many drop shots that came his way and frequently responded in kind, to great success. He kept Sonego guessing as he changed the direction of the ball with his down-the-line backhand.
The World No. 1 created eight break points in the tightly contested 91-minute second set, which came down to the wire with the opening 10 games going to the server. At 4-4, Sonego buried a putaway passing shot into the net and followed it with a double fault – giving Djokovic an opening and two break points, but the Italian held firm after a marathon 10-minute game.
Sonego responded emphatically in another 10-minute battle a game later, bringing up his first two set points, but once again Djokovic held firm. From deep behind the baseline, Djokovic tracked down a Sonego drop shot and flicked it over the net for a pass to finally claim a break of serve at 5-5.
But Sonego dug deep in the high-pressure moments, and capitalised on Djokovic’s attackable second serves to save two match points and send them into a tie-break. He rallied the fans at the Foro Italico as he dug his way out of a 0/3 deficit, and converted his fourth set point to narrowly escape with the second set.
The Italian didn’t miss a beat as he raced ahead to a 0/40 lead in Djokovic’s first service game, but the World No. 1 raised his level to deny him the early break. Instead it was Djokovic who drew first blood at 2-1, and silenced Campo Centrale as he took a 4-1 lead. Nearly one hour after his first match point, Djokovic finally arrived at a second and sealed his victory after Sonego sent a forehand into the net.
"I think I bounced back very well after the second set," Djokovic said. "I lost the first game Love/40, 30/40, missed a forehand down the line. Maybe if he started with a break up in the third, things would look differently."