ATP

Djokovic denies spirited Sonego to set up Nadal final in Rome

By Sports Desk May 15, 2021

Novak Djokovic dug deep in the face of fierce Roman resistance to set up a showdown with Rafael Nadal in the men's final at the Internazionali d'Italia.

World number one Djokovic came from a set down overnight to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 7-5 7-5 early on Saturday, before returning to the court to face Italian Lorenzo Sonego in the evening.

The Rome crowd raucously rallied behind Sonego, who beat Andrey Rublev earlier in the day, and the 26-year-old rose to the challenge but eventually fell to a 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 defeat.

Djokovic had match points before serving for it at 6-5 in the second set, yet it was to prove a stirring game as the noisy home crowd encouraged Sonego, who snatched a gutsy break. The tie-break looked set to be wholly one-sided when Djokovic raced 3-0 ahead, but it was soon back on serve, partisan spectators at the Foro Italico roaring in delight at a double fault from the Serbian.

From 4-2 behind, Sonego surged to 6-4 ahead in the tie-break. He failed to convert a first set point when ripping a forehand into the net, but the set was his when Djokovic sent a backhand service return long.

Sonego then had 0-40 against the Djokovic serve at the start of the decider, but he could not force the break, and the top seed gained strength from that escape, eventually cruising to victory.

Five-time Rome champion Djokovic said on Amazon Prime: "I bounced back very well after the second set. Maybe if he started with a break up in the third, things would look differently. I also had my chances and I only had myself to blame for not closing the match in straight sets.

"But he's a quality player, very dynamic, it's not easy to play against him and obviously he had the crowd behind him. It was an electric atmosphere. In the end I managed to close out the match really well."

Looking ahead to tackling Nadal, Djokovic said: "I need to recover. Hopefully I'll have fresh legs because that's what I definitely will need and it's necessary to have a chance against Rafa. He also had some tough matches [this week] and hopefully I'll be fresh and I'll give it all."

While Djokovic and Sonego thrashed away into the night, nine-time champion Nadal had no such workload issues on Saturday.

Nadal beat Alexander Zverev on Friday to set up a semi-final against American Reilly Opelka, and the Spaniard snatched a 6-4 6-4 win from that contest to reach the title match.

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    Rafael Nadal fended off a second early test of his Wimbledon mettle as he took four sets to see off Ricardas Berankis on Thursday.

    Just as in his opener against Francisco Cerundolo, Nadal dropped the third set of this match, but he regrouped, as he had two days earlier, to finish it in four.

    A 6-4 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory for the 36-year-old will do the job for round two, but it was laboured at times on Centre Court from Nadal, a day after title favourite Novak Djokovic delivered a masterclass against Thanasi Kokkinakis.

    Australian Open and French Open champion Nadal sealed it with an ace, his 16th consecutive win in a grand slam match, and the lack of polish at this early stage can be forgiven, given his lack of preparation on grass as he underwent treatment on his troublesome foot.

    World number 106 Berankis forced breaks to lead early in the second and third sets, and although the Lithuanian was pegged back quickly enough by Nadal on the first occasion, he held his nerve to take the third set.

    A rain delay came when Nadal was 3-0 clear in the fourth set, and that was only an inconvenience, Nadal wasting little time in finishing the job.

    With Matteo Berrettini and Roberto Bautista Agut both pulling out of Nadal's half of the draw due to COVID-19, and Denis Shapovalov losing on Thursday to Brandon Nakashima after reaching the semi-finals last year, it is hard to see who might deny the Spanish two-time champion a place in the final, unless Nick Kyrgios or Stefanos Tsitsipas fancy the task. Italian Lorenzo Sonego will be the next to try.

    Nadal said: "Every day is a challenge. That's the truth. I didn't play much on grass in the last three years. I need to improve, but I think the fourth set was much better. I think it was a good level of tennis in that set and the serve worked much better at the end of the match and I was able to play more aggressive, while at the beginning there were too many mistakes.

    "It's important for me to accept things are not perfect and just keep working, be humble and accept the challenge."

    Data slam: Going past Martina

    Nadal took his total of singles grand slam wins to 307 with this victory, taking him one ahead of Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon champion.

    He moves up to fourth place on the all-time list for singles wins in the majors, behind only Roger Federer, who leads the way, Serena Williams and Djokovic.

    Nadal of course leads the men's slam race with an unmatched 22 slams.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Nadal – 35/39
    Berankis – 35/35

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Nadal – 13/4
    Berankis – 3/3

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Nadal – 4/16
    Berankis – 2/5

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    Against Jubb, a line judge was prompted to speak to the chair umpire about Kyrgios, whose demands for some fans to be removed were punctuated by spitting towards a section of the crowd upon victory.

    Kyrgios spoke after that match of receiving "a lot of disrespect" from the crowds, while he also jousted with journalists in a news conference, before being angered by what he read afterwards.

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    "I was pretty disappointed in my performance in the first round. Then obviously the media's disrespect and just everything, it was just kind of a reminder to put you all back in your place from the performance today," Kyrgios said. "He made finals at Queen's, top 30 in the world, seeded. It's a gentle reminder."

    Kyrgios hit 50 winners and made only 10 unforced errors, saying in an on-court interview that he had displayed "great body language".

    "I just wanted to remind everyone that I'm pretty good," he said, with a deliberately straight face.

    "I'm just happy. I've been working hard and I've been preparing for this tournament. It's been circled on my calendar pretty much all year, and I'm so excited to be here again.

    "I think it's my best chance to win a grand slam of all the four [majors], and I'll keep taking it match by match. I've got an incredibly tough draw still, and today I couldn't have played better and now I can just recover and get ready."

    Awaiting Kyrgios in round three is Tsitsipas, a straight-sets winner on Thursday against another Australian, Jordan Thompson.

    Kyrgios holds a 3-1 winning head-to-head advantage over Tsitsipas in their previous meetings, coming out on top when they met at Halle just a fortnight ago.

    That recent match means Tsitsipas has it fresh in his mind what it might take to topple Kyrgios, and the Greek fourth seed told a news conference: "He claims to like grass and his game is good for the grass.

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