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Djokovic shows what was missing in Italian Open victory




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ROME It was exactly the kind of scrambling, opponent mentality and shooting that put Novak Djokovic within one match of a calendar year Grand Slam in 2021.

A spectacle that was so missing this year when Djokovic did not play because he had not been vaccinated against the corona virus.

Top-ranked Djokovic energized the Foro Italico crowd with several memorable points in a 7-5, 7-6(1) win over Felix Auger-Aliassime and reached the semifinals of the Italian Open on Friday.

At the end of a long rally, Djokovic . produced a delicate backhand topspin lob winner over the jumping Auger-Aliasime to break the serve and give a 4-2 lead in the second set.

Djokovic celebrated the winner of the lob by raising both arms above his head, then urged the crowd at Campo Centrale to cheer louder by gesturing with his hands.

It was high-level tennis, Djokovic said. He did ask me to level up and I had to play well all the time.

While still looking for his first title of the year, Djokovic secured the win by holding onto the No. 1 ranking for another week and taking the lead at the French Open.

Second-placed Daniil Medvedev can no longer pass Djokovic if the rankings are updated on Monday.

Roland Garros starts in nine days and Djokovic is gearing up for his first Grand Slam tournament of the year after being deported from Australia for the Australian Open.

Djokovic played the ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime for the first time and it took a while for him to start reading the Canadians’ big serve. He then stepped up his game and hit an off-balance cross-court forehand winner to break and take the first set.

Auger-Aliassime showed some touch early on when he left a backhand half volley winner to end a long rally in the second game.

But in the end, it was Djokovic playing his 16th consecutive clay-court quarterfinal that won all the big points. Like when he ran two smashes and responded with two defensive lobs before intervening to whip a cross-court backhand winner in the tiebreaker.

Djokovic’s semifinal opponent is Casper Ruud, who defeated Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (7), 7-5.

Shapovalov eliminated ten-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal, who was dealing with a chronically injured left foot on Thursday.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, in fifth place, served 10 aces to defeat Jannik Sinner 7-6(5), 6-2 and reached his third consecutive Masters semi-final on clay.

Tsitsipas will face Alexander Zverev in their third semifinal of the past month after the 2017 champion defeated Cristian Garin 7-5, 6-2.

In the women’s tournament, Iga Swiatek extended her winning streak to 26 games by beating former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu 7-6 (2), 6-0.

Swiatek struggled to be a top five player last year. Now she has learned how to use her recent success to intimidate.

I needed time to learn how to do that right, how to use the streak or ranking to pressure my opponents, Swiatek said. Last year, when I had (a) better ranking (than opponents), it felt like it was something that pressured me. This time it’s totally different.

In total, Swiatek produced 27 winners for Andreescus 12 and converted all six of her breakpoints.

“I feel like I’m playing better and better every game,” Swiatek said. Although the first set was pretty tight, I had some ups and downs, I feel like I can play well in key moments and break back at any time.

I’m quite happy that the second set was also firmer as it shows that I’m learning my lessons throughout the match.

Swiatek tries to win her fifth tournament in a row and defend her title in Rome.

The last player to win more consecutive games was Serena Williams in 2014-15, when she had a streak of 27.

Swiateks’ semifinal opponent will be third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who amassed 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 past Amanda Anisimova for her first win over the American in five tries.

Also, recent Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur went ahead, passing Maria Sakkari, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 for her 10th win in a row. Jabeur takes on Daria Kasatkina, who advanced when Jil Teichmann retired due to a left thigh injury with Kasatkina leading 6-4, 3-2.

Tsitsipas kept his cool as nearly the entire crowd of 10,500 fans supported Sinner, the 13th-placed Italian and considered a future Grand Slam contender.

But the 20-year-old Sinner dropped to 0-12 in his career against opponents in the top five.

Sinner was treated by a physical trainer after twisting his left hip during the final run of the first set.

His body is still developing physically.

That’s where the gap is, Sinner said. In terms of tennis, I’m here. I have to improve physically.

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