Novak Djokovic moved to the Italian Open semi-finals with a 7-5 7-6(1) victory against Felix Auger-Aliassime in a thrilling first meeting between the two. The Serb’s two-hour-and-nine-minute triumph also ensures that he retains the world No. 1 ranking, which was threatened by Daniil Medvedev, as well as the top seeding at the forthcoming French Open.
It was Djokovic’s first career match with Auger-Aliassime, though they had practised together several times and were familiar with each other’s game approaches. Despite the fact that he was facing the world No. 1 for the first time, the 21-year-old kept his cool from the outset.
“I thought I could have finished the job earlier”- Novak Djokovic
The opening set was close until 2-2 when the eighth seed was the first to set up a breakpoint, which was saved by Djokovic, who went on to win 3-2. After nearly 40 minutes, the world No. 1 got his own break to serve for the first set at 5-3. However, he was denied the opportunity to close out the set when the Canadian broke to get back on serve and delivered a confident love-hold to tie the match at 5-5. A game later, during the changeover, the Rome audience booed a Zlatan Ibrahimovic AC Milan shirt that was shown on the big screen before the top seed was able to break his opponent and win the opener 7-5.
In the first point of the second set, chair umpire Nacho Forcadell judged one of Auger-shots Aliassime’s “not-up,” awarded the point to Novak Djokovic, despite video replays uploaded by broadcasters and fans on social media showing Auger-Aliassime had arrived at the ball with plenty of time to spare. The 21-year-old held his cool until he was serving at 2-3, when the top seed pounced, setting up two breakpoints, which Auger-Aliassime saved to tie the game at deuce before throwing away two more.
With Djokovic waving his hands in the air to celebrate and jeer the fans on, the five-time former winner converted his fourth with a brilliant lob that the 6’4 Canadian couldn’t reach. In the next game, Auger-Aliassime replied by setting up two break points of his own as the audience grew louder and continued to shout and jeer between points, causing the top seed to yell “shut the f*** up” during the nine-minute game, which he eventually held on to, bringing the match to 5-2.
“I thought I could have finished the job [against Auger-Aliassime] earlier,” Novak Djokovic said on-court afterwards. “I was a set and 5-2 up and was serving for the match, but credit to him for fighting back. Amazing atmosphere as well tonight.” On facing Casper Ruud next, Djokovic said: “Great quality opponent. A clay-court specialist, but he has improved a lot on other surfaces and played in the final at Miami this year. A very hard worker, nice guy. We practice a lot and get on well off the court. Tomorrow on the court we want to win against each other no doubt.”