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Djokovic Sets Blockbuster Nadal Final After Sonego Epic

  • Posted: May 15, 2021

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.”

Did You Know? 
Novak Djokovic (36) and Rafael Nadal (35) lead all players in ATP Masters 1000 championships. They also boast the most on clay courts, with Nadal owning 25 titles and Djokovic 10. 

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Nadal Ends Opelka’s Run, Reaches 12th Rome Final

  • Posted: May 15, 2021

Rafael Nadal extended his perfect Internazionali BNL d’Italia semi-final record to 12-0 on Saturday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Reilly Opelka.

The nine-time champion claimed a single break in each set to move one win away from a record-equalling 36th ATP Masters 1000 title. Nadal is now also within touching distance of winning a single tour-level event on 10 or more occasions for the fourth time. The Spaniard already owns 13 Roland Garros crowns, 12 Barcelona trophies and 11 Monte-Carlo titles.


After saving two match points against Denis Shapovalov in the third round and nine of the 10 break points he faced against Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals, Nadal continued to find his best tennis in critical moments against Opelka. The second seed saved four break points at 2-1 in the first set and broke serve in two of the three games where he earned a break point to advance to the championship match.

“I did the thing that I had to do today,” Nadal said in his post-match interview. “It is not an easy, beautiful match to play and, [against] a player like Reilly, [you aren’t going to] have rhythm. You know you are going to have just a few options on your return and you know he can play very aggressive from the baseline. That is what happened at the beginning of the match. He had some options [for the] break and it was super important for me to save those moments.”

Opelka had not dropped serve en route to the semi-finals, having saved all six break points he had faced across his opening four matches. The American’s low first-serve percentage (52%) gave Nadal a chance to extend rallies and the Mallorcan used his opportunities well to reach a record-equalling 52nd Masters 1000 final.

Nadal’s semi-final victory marked a milestone moment in the 35-time Masters 1000 champion’s career. Nadal became the seventh man in the Open Era to contest 500 tour-level encounters on clay (458-42). The 34-year-old’s 91.6 per cent success rate, 61 titles, 81-match winning streak (2005-‘07) and 50-set winning streak (2017-‘18) are all Open Era clay-court records.

Most Open Era Clay-Court Matches (500+)

Rank Player Matches Win-Loss (%)
1 Guillermo Vilas 854 681-173 (79.7%)
2 Manuel Orantes 739 569-170 (77.0%)
3 Jose Higueras 576 394-182 (68.4%)
4 Thomas Muster 553 426-127 (77.0%)
5 Ilie Nastase 539 426-113 (79.0%)
6 Eddie Dibbs 520 382-138 (73.5%)
7 Rafael Nadal 500 458-42 (91.6%)

After saving four break points with strong serving at 1-2 in the first set, Nadal fired a backhand return winner and capitalised on Opelka errors to gain the only break of the first set. The five-time year-end World No. 1 took advantage of missed first serves in the second set to break through at 1-1 and he maintained his advantage on serve to reach his 12th final in Rome (9-2).

“I did a lot of things well [and played with a] good spirit during all the week,” Nadal said. “[There are] a lot of positive things I did on court this week and it is important for my confidence to be back in such an important final like this one.”

Nadal Serve Placement

– Graphic courtesy of Hawk-Eye Innovations/ATP Media
– Take a deep dive into this match with Match Insights powered by Infosys NIA

The 6’1” left-hander will meet five-time champion Novak Djokovic or Lorenzo Sonego in the final. Nadal and Djokovic have won 14 of the past 16 editions of this event and have met on eight occasions at the Foro Italico (Nadal leads 5-3). Nadal has not met Sonego on the ATP Tour. 

Opelka was bidding to become the first American Masters 1000 finalist on clay since Andre Agassi lifted the 2002 Rome trophy. The American entered the tournament on a six-match losing streak and held just two wins from 12 tour level matches on clay, but he claimed four straight-sets victories to reach his maiden Masters 1000 semi-final in Rome.

Nadal Return Hit Points

Did You Know?
Nadal owns a combined 13-1 record against the three tallest players on the ATP Tour. The Spaniard leads his ATP Head2Head rivalries against 6’11” Opelka (1-0), 6’11 Ivo Karlovic (5-0) and 6’10” John Isner (7-1).

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Thiem On Lyon Collision Course With #NextGenATP Sinner

  • Posted: May 15, 2021

Top seed Dominic Thiem learned his path to a second Open Parc d’Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes-Lyon trophy on Saturday, and the journey will be anything but straightforward after landing in a loaded section of the ATP 250 draw.

The Mutua Madrid Open semi-finalist will be seeking his 18th tour-level title after taking a wild card into Lyon. Thiem, the 2018 champion, will start in the second round after a bye and awaits the winner of Frenchman Corentin Moutet and Britain’s Cameron Norrie for his opening match. He owns a 1-0 ATP Head2Head record against both players.

View Lyon Singles Draw

Further down the draw, Thiem’s section is loaded with experienced clay-courters and in-form players, led by sixth seed Jannik Sinner. The 19-year-old Italian drew one of the trickiest first-round opponents in the field: an unseeded Aslan Karatsev. The Russian defeated Sinner in their only previous meeting on his way to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy earlier this year, and they will meet on clay for the first time in Lyon.

Also in Thiem’s section, third seed Diego Schwartzman and eighth seed Karen Khachanov loom as potential semi-final opponents. Schwartzman lifted his fourth tour-level title at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires and will start against either former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet or a qualifier. Khachanov will face French wild card Benjamin Bonzi in his opening match.

Second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas anchors the bottom half of the draw, and the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters champion could face off against a former Lyon champion in the second round. After a bye, the Greek wild card will take on the winner of Tommy Paul and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who delighted French fans with a victory in the inaugural edition of this event in 2017. Home favourite Gael Monfils, seeded fifth, also landed in Tsitsipas’ section and will take on Lloyd Harris in the first round.

Fourth seed David Goffin could face #NextGenATP Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals, but the young Canadian will have to win a popcorn first-round encounter against Italian Lorenzo Sonego in order to get there. Fellow 20-year-old Sebastian Korda could be Auger-Aliassime’s second-round opponent, should the American move past his own tricky first-round clash against Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

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Sonego Shocks Rublev, Sets Djokovic Semi-final

  • Posted: May 15, 2021

Lorenzo Sonego stunned Andrey Rublev 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.

The 26-year-old saved 11 of the 13 break points he faced to overcome the Monte-Carlo runner-up in two hours and 33 minutes. Backed by a passionate home crowd on Grand Stand Arena, Sonego won 100 points compared to Rublev’s 99.

“[This is] my favorite tournament in the world, I’m with my people here,” Sonego said. “[I am] so happy for this because I played every point. I’m really happy.”


The Italian has defeated consecutive Top 10 opponents to reach the final four in the Italian capital. Sonego outlasted fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(5) in a marathon three-hour, 24-minute clash on Thursday.

Sonego will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic for a place in the championship match. The five-time champion rallied from a set and a break down to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a two-day match on Centre Court.

“It’s a very emotional moment for me, playing in [the] semi-finals with Novak,” Sonego said. “He’s [an] unbelievable player. He’s the best in the world. I want to do my best.”

Sonego owns a 1-0 ATP Head2Head record against the 36-time Masters 1000 champion. The Italian took advantage of a below-par performance from Djokovic in last year’s Erste Bank Open quarter-finals to record a 6-2, 6-1 win.

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Djokovic Clinches Comeback Tsitsipas Win In Rome

  • Posted: May 15, 2021

After heading to sleep trailing by a set and a break in his Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, Novak Djokovic raised his game on Saturday to earn a memorable 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 comeback victory against the Greek.

The top seed returned to the court on Saturday morning with Tsitsipas serving at 6-4, 2-1, and he broke serve in two of his opening five return games to force a decider. Rain suspended play twice on Friday, but there was no denying Djokovic on Saturday. The Serbian twice recovered from a break down in the decider to reach the final four in Rome for the eighth straight year (2014-’21).

“There are many things to say about today or yesterday’s match. It kind of felt like we played two matches… The one yesterday, where he was the better player. He started better today also. I managed to somehow to hold my nerves [and] break his serve in the important moments in the second and third sets,” Djokovic said in his post-match interview.

“The support of the crowd was amazing. It was great to play in front of a crowd. [It was a] fantastic atmosphere. It was a bit of luck, a bit of mental strength and the right tactics at the right time. One shot, not even a point, one shot really decided the winner today. I am just glad to be on the better side.”


This is Djokovic’s fourth straight ATP Head2Head triumph against Tsitsipas. The World No. 1 owns a 5-2 advantage against the 22-year-old, which includes an unbeaten 3-0 record on clay.

Tsitsipas made a strong start after the resumption of play to move into a 4-2 lead in the second set. But Djokovic soon raised his level in return games. The defending champion won two marathon games on Tsitsipas’ serve to push the match to a deciding set. Across return games at 4-3 and 6-5, Djokovic earned a combined nine break points. The 18-time Grand Slam champion used his forehand to break through on both occasions, ripping winners up the line to level the match.

Tsitsipas twice led by a break in the deciding set and served for the match at 5-4, but Djokovic rallied on both occasions to take a 6-5 lead. As Tsitsipas served to force a final-set tie-break, the World No. 1 fired a backhand winner down the line and played with consistent depth to extract crucial Tsitsipas errors.

“[I had to dig] very deep. Without a doubt, until the last shot I didn’t know whether I was going to win but I believed that I could,” Djokovic said. “You can always fight, give your best and let God decide who takes the win. [Stefanos] was playing well. He is in fantastic shape, obviously winning Monte-Carlo and coming off of finals in Barcelona… I am just really, really glad to overcome this challenge. It was probably the toughest match of the year for me so far.”

Later today Djokovic will play Italian Lorenzo Sonego, who upset seventh-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev, for a place in the championship match. Sonego recovered from a set down to defeat the Monte-Carlo runner-up 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Grand Stand Arena.

Tsitsipas was aiming to earn his second victory against a World No. 1. The 2019 Rome semi-finalist beat Djokovic when the Serbian was ranked No. 1 at the 2019 Rolex Shanghai Masters.

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