Novak Djokovic likes records and he is on the verge of winning his 36th Masters 1000 title if he is successful in the final of the Italian Open at the Foro Italica today, to edge him one ahead of Rada Nadal.
I don’t take anything for granted, even after 15 years on the Tour. I still enjoy it. I still have hunger for the titles and putting myself in a position to fight for the title is exactly where I want to be. Novak Djokovic
On another table he has now reached his 52nd final at that level to go one up on Nadal and two on Roger Federer.
But he also seems to be establishing a new set of stats in the number of occasions he falls foul of the umpire and he is already well ahead of the other two members of the ‘Big Three’!
Being defaulted from the US Open and a day after he was warned for racket abuse, Djokovic picked up an obscenity warning half-way through his semi-final with 21-year-old Casper Ruud of Norway.
He admitted on Saturday his behaviour isn’t setting a very good example, especially for children who might have been watching on TV.
As with all the matches, the event is being played behind closed doors but that edict was slackened by the health authorities who allowed 1,000 fans in to watch the final two days of the event, all socially distancing themselves as protocols dictate.
And a high proportion of those attending on Sunday, were of course children!
Djokovic is allowing his frustrations to get the better of him. His latest outburst overshadowed his 7-5 6-3 two-hour 12-minute victory over Ruud who like Dominik Koepfer the day before, had him on the run in the first set. But while Koepfer took a set off the Serb, Ruud was unable to convert the two set points he held at 5-4.
A very delicate backhand-drop shot saved one of them and five aces in in the 11th game got him back ahead in the set.
Ruud, the first Norwegian to contest a Masters 1000 semi-final and a product of Rafael Nadal’s academy, showed some fighting qualities which should stand him in good stead for the future. He also produced the shot of the day: a leaping over-the-shoulder hook shot for a winner as he raced back to chase down a lob, a shot which even Djokovic applauded.
The obscenity warning came in the third game of the second set, when the match was still anyone’s and followed a series of protestations by the Serb at a number of bad calls.
“It is super important to win the title. Otherwise, I would not be here,” Djokovic said on reaching his 10th Rome final and converting four of them into titles.
“I don’t take anything for granted, even after 15 years on the Tour. I still enjoy it. I still have hunger for the titles and putting myself in a position to fight for the title is exactly where I want to be.”
He will face Diego Schwartzman for his fifth Roman crown and admits that the diminutive Argentine will provide a strong challenge as he is very comfortable on clay. He is also confident having dispatched his rival Nadal in straight sets two rounds earlier.
For Schwartzman it will be his first appearance in a Masters final after defeating Denis Shapovalov 6-4 5-7 7-6(4) for the privilege.
“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” Schwartzman admitted on court after the gruelling three-hour 15-minute victory.
It was a dogged performance from the South American as Shapovalov threw everything he had at him, showing his full range of shots but was unable to make the kill when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third.
In the tie-break the young Canadian fell behind when he delivered his 8th double fault of the contest leaving Schwartzman with the chance to hang on and claim the win on his first match point and a chance of gaining his first Masters title.
“If I win I’m going to be Top 10, so I just need to rest,” the Buenos Aires native said. “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,
“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.”
His victory makes him the first Argentine to reach the final in Rome since Guillermo Coria in 2005 and if he emerges as champion, he will be the first from his country to achieve that since Alberto Mancini in 1989.
Both players have plenty too play for.