Novak Djokovic moved one win away from a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 trophy on Sunday, following his 7-5, 6-3 victory against Casper Ruud at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
The World No. 1 saved two set points in the opener and fired 12 aces to improve to 10-1 in Rome semi-final matches. Djokovic will attempt to break a tie with fellow 35-time Masters 1000 champion Rafael Nadal when he faces Diego Schwartzman or Denis Shapovalov in the championship match on Monday.
Djokovic equalled Nadal’s record Masters 1000 title haul by claiming his second Career Golden Masters at the Western & Southern Open last month. The four-time champion owns a 4-5 record in Rome championship matches.
The Serbian has earned 30 match wins after just 31 ATP Tour matches this year. Only in 2011, when he won his opening 41 matches of the year, has Djokovic reached 30 victories quicker.
Djokovic’s Best Season Starts (After 31 Matches)
Djokovic will be attempting to end a five-year title drought in Rome on Monday. The 33-year-old has finished as runner-up at the event in three of the past four years, losing to Murray (2016), Zverev (2017) and Nadal (2019) in final clashes.
The five-time year-end No. 1 owns a combined 9-0 ATP Head2Head record against potential final opponents Schwartzman and Shapovalov. Djokovic is unbeaten in five matches against Shapovalov and owns a 4-0 record against Schwartzman. The Serbian owns a victory against each player at this event.
Ruud was attempting to reach his third final in four clay events this year. The World No. 34 owns a tour-leading 12 wins on the surface this year (12-3). Ruud was one of the form players of February’s ‘Golden Swing’, capturing his maiden ATP Tour crown at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires and finishing as a runner-up in Santiago.
Ruud made a fast start on Centrale, anticipating Djokovic’s tactics and covering the court with great speed to gain an early break. The 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier played with confidence on his forehand and saved two break points at 3-2, but he failed to covert two set points when serving for the set at 5-4. Djokovic increased his aggression on his backhand side and landed a drop shot winner, a tactic he has used throughout the week, before earing his first break of the match.
Djokovic served well under pressure to save three break points in a 12-minute game at 5-5 and, with added confidence, attacked his opponent’s backhand to reach set point in the following game. At that moment, Ruud attempted to strike his 13th forehand winner of the set, but misfired on his favoured shot to hand Djokovic a one-set lead.
Djokovic continued to serve with power and accuracy to escape danger early in the second set and gained the first break at 3-2 with powerful groundstrokes. The 17-time Grand Slam champion struck three consecutive winners into Ruud’s forehand corner and capitalised on a Ruud forehand error to move two games from victory. Djokovic earned success driving his backhand up the line in the closing stages and booked his place in the final when Ruud failed to control a backhand return.