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ROME: This is exactly what Novak Djokovic needed a week before Roland-Garros.
The top-ranked Serbian beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-3 at the Italian Open on Saturday to reach his biggest final of the year.
Having missed much of the season because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus, Djokovic will look to extend his five-game winning streak against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
“I can expect a big battle,” Djokovic said. “But I’m ready for this.”
Tsitsipas reached his first final in Rome beating Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic is looking for his sixth title in the Italian capital.
In the women’s semi-final, top-seeded Iga Swiatek beat Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-1 for her 27th straight win and will face fellow runaway Ons Jabeur as she attempts to defend her title at Rome.
Jabeur beat Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 for her 11th consecutive win after lifting the Madrid Open trophy last week.
Djokovic recorded the 1,000th victory of his career, making him the fifth man to reach this record after Jimmy Connors (1,274 wins), Roger Federer (1,251), Ivan Lendl (1,068) and Rafael Nadal (1,051) .
After the match, Djokovic received a cake with “1,000” written on it.
“I saw Roger and Rafa celebrating those milestones and I was looking forward to reaching 1,000 myself,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic is playing in only his fifth tournament of the year, with his best result coming before the final of the smaller Serbian Open, his home tournament, last month. Last week he was beaten by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open.
Against Ruud, the first Norwegian to break into the top 10, Djokovic surged to 5-1 in the first set with a series of shots that nullified his opponent’s power.
On an early point, when Ruud shoved Djokovic off the doubles lane, the Serb practically did the splits responding with a backhand winner down the line with his racquet inches above the dirt court. red beat.
Djokovic’s last match against Tsitsipas came in last year’s French Open final, when he rallied after two sets to lift the trophy.
Djokovic also needed five sets to beat Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros semi-finals two years ago, and they went the full three sets when Djokovic won the quarter-finals in Rome last year.
“I thought back to those games. I analyzed them,” Tsitsipas said. “There are things that didn’t work out for me after two sets to like at Roland Garros. I guess I’ve always been quite stubborn, I didn’t want to change (tactics). … There’s always a game over where maybe I can do something different.
Tsitsipas has been pushed to three sets in three of his four matches this week, having also defeated home favorite Jannik Sinner in straight sets in the quarter-finals.
Tsitsipas also played all of his matches in the midday heat.
“The heat was not easy. But that’s what I prefer,” said the Greek player.
Tsitsipas defended his title at the Monte Carlo Masters last month and is aiming for another big title on clay.
The Italian Open has been played since 1935 at the picturesque Foro Italico, which includes a court lined with neo-classical statues.
“It’s one of the tournaments with the most history in our sport,” said Tsitsipas. “You can see as you walk around the site, one of the most beautiful stadiums – the Pietrangeli. So there is a lot of history playing out on these courts and you are very proud to have made your way here. and to have been able to take part in an event so rich in history.
Swiatek’s streak is the longest by a woman since Serena Williams won 27 in a row in 2014 and 2015. The longest streak of all time belongs to Martina Navratilova, who won 74 in a row in 1984 .
“I constantly surprise myself that I can do better and better,” Swiatek said. “I feel like I can actually believe now that the sky’s the limit. That’s the fun part.
Seeking to win his fifth tournament in a row, Swiatek dominated eighth-placed Sabalenka with power, consistency and finesse.
“Today I felt like I really understood clay,” Swiatek said.
The hard-hitting Sabalenka took a medical timeout late in the second set and had her back treated.
Swiatek, who was a surprise French Open champion in 2020 when ranked No. 54, will be the favorite to add a second French Open title when the second Grand Slam of the year begins next weekend.
Jabeur, who is also emerging as a French Open contender, saved a match point late in the third.