Novak Djokovic is well on his way to achieving his two goals for the week as he prepares for the major clay court championships at Roland Garros starting Sunday week, namely, retaining his position at the top of the world rankings and winning a sixth Rome Masters title.
I thought it was high-level tennis. 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. Novak Djokovic
As regards the rankings that is now assured for the 370th week following his progress into the semi-finals after defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime – or Double A as the Canadian has become known – 7-5 7-6(1) where he will have to contend with Norway’s Casper Ruud who also came through a tough quarter final by defeating another Canadian, Denis Shapovalov 7-6(7) 7-5 if is he is to reach the final and the opportunity to collect his sixth Roman crown.
Auger-Aliassime tested him well over the two hours the pair spent on court, pulverising down 11 aces and serving consistently at over 124 mph, all backed up by a wide range of shots including some deft drop shots.
“He’s got a lethal serve, honestly,” Djokovic admitted after the match. “It’s one thing to practice, another thing is to play against someone in an official match… It was not easy at all for me to return.
” He’s hitting his spots in the box incredibly well with the serve and returning well, and moving well — he’s a very complete player.
“I thought it was high-level tennis,” the world No.1 continued. “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.”
The 21-year-old from Montreal with just a single title to his credit so far, certainly had the crowd on his side as he battled with the Serbian bringing the crowd to their feet when he fought back to force a second set tie-break where unfortunately his fight was brought to an abrupt end.
The packed Centre Court crowd also got very involved in the Stefanos Tsitsipas clash with local boy Jannik Sinner who, to their disappointment, eventually succumbed 7-6(5) 6-2 to the Greek.
The first set was a close affair but once Tsitsipas had finally edged ahead, Sinner called for a medical time-out which had to be attended to off court and on his resumption, the fourth seed took complete control but on his second match point, the match had to be stopped while a spectator, high in the stands, was attended to after falling ill.
The umpire attempted on the arrival on scene of medical assistance,to finish off the match only for the crowd to hiss and whistle at his seemingly insensitive decision, forcing him to hold back play.
The break lasted over 10-minutes before Tsitsipas could claim that final point and finish off the match to progress into the semis where his rival Alexander Zverev, a 7-5 6-2 victor over the unseeded Chilean Cristian Garin, awaits.
It will be the Greek’s third meeting with the German in a month, all at Masters level with both players sharing the spoils with Zverev earning his first win over Tsitsipas on clay last week in Madrid.
“We have similar game styles but he is one of the most difficult players to play against on the Tour,” Tsitsipas said ahead of Saturday’s match-up against the former champion. “I have a lot of respect for him. He has achieved a lot so far and I try and look up to him with the things he has achieved.”
Reflecting on his victory over Sinner, he added: “I was able to really step it up in the second set and I think the most important part was that first set tie-break. I really went for it when I had to. I didn’t overthink or hesitate and that paid off in the end.”
But the big match-up will be the Djokovic clash with Ruud who is playing on his favourite surface despite this year having had a patchy start to his season on clay.
“Great quality opponent again,” Djokovic said when asked to look ahead. “Clay-court specialist, but he has improved a lot on other surfaces, played the final of Miami this year. Just a very hard worker, nice guy.
“We practise a lot and get along well off the court. Tomorrow obviously on the court we want to win against each other, no doubt… Hopefully I can play as well as I did tonight.”