Djokovic outlasts Sonego to set up Rome final with Nadal
May 16 2021 12:32 AM
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates a point during the Italian Open semi-final against Italy’s Lorenz
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates a point during the Italian Open semi-final against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego (not pictured) at Foro Italico in Rome, Italy, yesterday. (AFP)

Agencies/ Rome, Italy

• Top seed Djokovic is stretched to three sets by local hope Sonego; Spaniard picks up straights sets win over Opelka

Defending champion Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will clash for the Italian Open title after the top two seeds advanced to the final of the Masters tournament yesterday.
Djokovic, who beat Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a rain-delayed quarter-final earlier in the day, was also stretched to three sets in the semi-final before overcoming local favourite Lorenzo Sonego.
Sonego, the first Italian to make the semi-finals in Rome in 14 years after he beat world number seven Andrey Rublev earlier yesterday, had his dream run ended by Djokovic who triumphed 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
Djokovic failed to convert two match points in the second set that lasted 91 minutes as Sonego forced a tiebreak, where the Serb lost a 4-2 lead.
However, the world number one controlled proceedings in the decider and advanced after Sonego’s return on match point found the net.
Earlier, Nadal beat Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4 to move into the final in Rome for the 12th time.
The match was Nadal’s 500th on clay where he has a formidable 458-42 record and the Spaniard advanced after twice breaking the big-serving American.
“When you play these kind of matches, you know it’s not going to be a beautiful match... you’re not going to find rhythm in the match. You’re going to have just a few chances to break,” Nadal told reporters.
“It’s important not to suffer much with your serve because if you are... you feel the stress all the time. So the positive thing today, I just faced break points in one game during the whole match.”
“It’s important for my confidence to be back in a final. I did what I had to do today, it was not an easy or beautiful match to play. The work is done,” added Nadal, who exited early in Monte Carlo and Madrid.
Djokovic was trailing Tsitsipas 6-4, 2-1 when Friday’s quarter-final was halted by rain but the Serb raised his game at key moments to twice come back from a break down in the deciding set.
Djokovic has a 29-27 career record against Nadal but the Spaniard has won five of their eight matches in Rome.
Two weeks before Roland Garros, Nadal had a tough run to the semi-finals, saving two match points in a 3hr 30min third round battle with Canadian Denis Shapovalov. But the 34-year-old was rarely troubled by the towering American, who was playing his first Masters semi-final.
Nadal blasted down 11 aces and did not drop serve against a player who had not dropped a set all week.
A break in either set, Opelka’s first dropped this week, put the second seed through to the final. Nadal is looking to equal Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles today.
He is also attempting to win 10 or more titles at a single event for the fourth time, after Roland Garros (13), Barcelona (12) and Monte Carlo (11).

Spain’s Rafael Nadal hits a forehand return to Reilly Opelka (not pictured) of the US during their Italian Open semi-final in Rome, Italy, yesterday. (Reuters)

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