Tennis

Djokovic survives grueling test to renew record-setting rivalry against Nadal at Italian Open

Djokovic and Nadal won a total of three matches over younger players on Saturday and will renew their record-setting rivalry in the Italian Open final on Sunday — exactly two weeks before Roland Garros starts.

Top-ranked Serb beats both Tsitsipas and Sonego in separate matches on Saturday

Novak Djokovic outlasted Italy's Lorenzo Sonego, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 in their semifinal match at the Italian Open on Saturday. Earlier, the top-ranked Serb defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a grueling, rain-delayed quarter-final that began on Friday. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

Maybe the new generation of tennis players isn't quite so ready to end the eras of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Titles for Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev in the Monte Carlo Masters and Madrid Open, respectively, raised speculation again that the Big Three — including Roger Federer — was expiring.

Well, again, not yet.

Djokovic and Nadal won a total of three matches over younger players on Saturday and will renew their record-setting rivalry in the Italian Open final on Sunday — exactly two weeks before Roland Garros starts.

WATCH | Djokovic outlasts Sonego in semifinal to set up showdown with Nadal at Rome Open:

Djokovic survives semi-final scare to advance to Rome open final against Nadal

Sports

1 month ago
1:12
World number one Novak Djokovic of Serbia defeated Italy's Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 Saturday, advancing to the Rome Open final to face Rafael Nadal of Spain. 1:12

They took vastly different paths to get there.

Djokovic regained his cool after throwing his racket off the court to beat Tsitsipas 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a grueling, rain-delayed quarter-final that began on Friday.

Then the top-ranked Serb returned a few hours later against local favourite Lorenzo Sonego and wasted a late break and two match points in the second set of a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory in his second match of the day.

In all, Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court.

"First of all I need to recover. I don't have much time," Djokovic said. "Hopefully I'll have fresh legs, because that's what I'll need to play against Rafa."

Nadal kept his time on court to a minimum by ending the surprising clay-court run of big-serving American Reilly Opelka by 6-4, 6-4.

"I played the match that I had to play," Nadal said. "I had two breaks [in] two sets. That's a positive thing for me. [Being] in the final again here means a lot."

WATCH | Nadal cruises past Opelka to pick up 500th career clay court win:

Nadal wins 500th career clay court match to advance to Rome Open final

Sports

1 month ago
0:42
Spain's Rafael Nadal defeated American Reilly Opelka in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 Saturday in semi-final action to advance to the Rome Open final. 0:42

A day earlier, Nadal eliminated Zverev in straight sets.

"In terms of preparation for Roland Garros, I consider the job done," Nadal added. "Tomorrow is not at all preparation. ... [It's] a final, an important one, and I want to be competitive."

Djokovic and Nadal have met an Open-era record 56 times, with Djokovic leading the series 29-27. Their previous meeting came in last year's French Open final, where Nadal won in straight sets. It will be the sixth time they meet in the Rome final, with Nadal holding a 3-2 edge.

Nadal has won the Italian Open a record nine times, while Djokovic has five titles at the Foro Italico.

Women's results

The women's final will feature French Open champion Iga Swiatek against 2019 Rome champion Karolina Pliskova.

WATCH | Swiatek bests Gauff in straight sets, advances to Rome final:

Swiatek straight sets winner in Rome, will face Pliskova in final

Sports

1 month ago
1:04
Poland's Iga Swiatek eliminated American Cori Gauff 7-6(3), 6-3 in semi-final action Saturday at the Rome Open. 1:04

Swiatek also had to play twice on Saturday. First, she eliminated two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 7-5 then she beat 17-year-old Coco Gauff 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Pliskova reached her third consecutive Rome final by outlasting Petra Martic 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

WATCH | Pliskova bests Martic to advance to 3rd consecutive Rome final:

Pliskova advances to Rome Open final after win over Martic

Sports

1 month ago
0:41
Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic defeated Petra Martic of Croatia 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 Saturday to advance to the final of the WTA Rome Open tennis event. 0:41

'Really glad to overcome the challenge'

The 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Opelka hadn't dropped a set this week and threatened early against Nadal with a series of huge forehands. But Nadal saved four break points in the fourth game of the match then broke in the next game to take control.

Djokovic fought back from breaks of his serve in each of the final two sets against Tsitsipas.

"I'm just really, really glad to overcome this challenge," Djokovic said. "It's probably the toughest match of the year for me so far."

Sonego was backed by a loud crowd when he rallied past seventh-ranked Andrey Rublev 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first Masters semifinal. Their match was washed out Friday.

Fans were allowed to fill 25 per cent of capacity as part of the Italian government's reopening plan.

Against Djokovic, Sonego urged the crowd to get louder in the key moments but ultimately Djokovic's experience paid off as the Serb gained a measure of revenge after getting routed 6-2, 6-1 by the Italian in Vienna last year.

"It was an electric atmosphere out there on the court," Djokovic said.

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