Novak Djokovic advanced to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals for the 14th straight year on Friday, following his 7-6(7), 6-3 victory against countryman Filip Krajinovic.
The 33-year-old saved five of six break points to improve to 14-0 in third-round matches at the ATP Masters 1000 event after two hours and seven minutes. Djokovic struggled to take his chances in an 87-minute opening set, but raised his level in the second set to maintain his perfect record of quarter-final appearances in the Italian capital.
“It was definitely one of the longest sets I think I have ever played,” said Djokovic. “Never easy, I think, emotionally to play against someone that is one of my best friends for many years… I think the first set could have gone a different way, as well.
“Fortunately for me it went my way, and that allowed me to swing through the ball a bit more in the second set. Maybe physically and mentally he dropped a level, and I used my opportunities and capitalised to win in straight sets.”
The four-time champion has now won 28 of his 29 matches this year, highlighted by title runs at the Australian Open, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Western & Southern Open.
Djokovic is aiming to break a tie with fellow 35-time Masters 1000 champion Rafael Nadal by lifting his 36th crown at the level this week. The World No. 1 equalled Nadal’s record Masters 1000 trophy haul last month by completing the Career Golden Masters for a second time at the Western & Southern Open. No other singles player has achieved the feat once.
More than 10 years after their only previous ATP Head2Head contest in Belgrade, Djokovic and Krajinovic traded breaks to open their third-round clash on Centrale. Djokovic attacked his opponent’s forehand and attempted to break up play with drop shots throughout the first set, but could not execute that game plan when holding two set points at 5-4 on Krajinovic’s serve.
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Krajinovic moved up the court well to finish points and establish a 4/1 lead in the tie-break, before Djokovic charged back by dictating rallies with his forehand and serving with added power. The 33-year-old converted his fifth set point when Krajinovic committed a forehand error. Both players won 61 points throughout the set, which lasted 87 minutes.
Djokovic found success early in the second set, driving forehands down the line to break serve at 1-1. The 17-time Grand Slam champion maintained his advantage to reach 5-3 and played with consistency from the baseline to break serve for a third time.
The Serbian, who tied Pete Sampras’ tally of 286 weeks as the No. 1 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday, will face Dominik Koepfer of Germany for the first time for a place in the semi-finals.
Koepfer became the first qualifier to reach the quarter-finals in Rome in 11 years, beating #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0. Following in the footsteps of 2009 quarter-finalists Juan Monaco and Mischa Zverev, the 26-year-old was clinical in crucial moments. Koepfer saved all five break points he faced and converted each of his four break points en route to victory.
Koepfer was forced to save match point in his opening match at this event against Alex de Minaur, before upsetting fifth seed Gael Monfils to earn his maiden Top 10 win in his second-round match. The World No. 97 is making his debut in the main draw at a Masters 1000 event this week.
Musetti entered the tournament seeking his first ATP Tour victory. The 18-year-old upset Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori in straight sets to reach the third round. As a result of his performances in Rome, Musetti will crack the Top 200 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time at around No. 179. The 6’1” right-hander will be the second-youngest player inside the Top 200, behind 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain (No. 186).