Djokovic digs deep to reach Rome semis as Swiatek streak continues

Jonathan Davies in ATP Rome 13 May 2022
Djokovic returns to the top of the ATP rankings (ANSA via ZUMA Press)

Novak Djokovic racked up his 999th career match win as he defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets to reach the Italian Open semi-finals on Friday.

A five-time winner in Rome, Djokovic also secured his return to the top of the ATP rankings by advancing to the last four of this event for a ninth successive year.

The Serbian is the most successful player in the ATP Masters 1000 series – amassing 37 titles in his career – and is now just two wins away from capturing another after digging deep to see off Auger-Aliassime.

In his first meeting with the Canadian, Djokovic broke in game eight for the opportunity to serve out for the opening set.

Auger-Aliassime responded immediately to put it back on serve, but the top seed broke to 15 at 6-5 to draw first blood.

Once again, the 20-time major winner took control of proceedings in the second set; a delicious backhand lob giving him another break and a 4-2 lead.

Nevertheless, the eighth seed dug deep to rescue match point in his next service game, before breaking back as the set went to a tie-break.

Although, it was very one-sided from there; Djokovic dominating to advance to the last four.

Next up for him is Casper Ruud after the fifth seed beat Denis Shapovalov 7-6(7) 7-5.

The Buenos Aires champion, who was also a runner-up in Miami, is through to his second semi-final in Rome, having progressed to the same stage two years ago.

The same can be said for Stefanos Tsitsipas, who chalked up his 30th victory of the season as he saw off home favourite Jannik Sinner 7-6(5) 6-2.

Champion in Monte Carlo, the fourth seed hit 10 aces on the way to setting up a showdown with Alexander Zverev.

The 2017 winner – and Madrid Open finalist – was a 7-5 6-2 victor over Cristian Garin.

Over in the Ladies’ draw, reigning champion Iga Swiatek continued her rich vein of form as she put former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu to the sword 7-6(2) 6-0.

The world number one registered her 26th successive victory of a remarkable season, in which she has already triumphed in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami and Stuttgart.

The Pole will look to continue that streak against four-time Masters champion Aryna Sabalenka, who came from behind to beat Amanda Anisimova 4-6 6-3 6-2.

Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur also maintained her impressive momentum with a wonderful turnaround to Maria Sakkari 1-6 7-5 6-1.

The ninth seed lost nine of the opening 10 games, but hit back with seven of the next nine to force a deciding set.

Sakkari had won each of her eight previous quarter-finals, but was completely powerless as Jabeur racked up her 16th win on clay this season – more than any other player.

Her reward is a clash with Daria Kasatkina, who advanced to the semi-finals after opponent Jil Teichmann retired injured when trailing 6-4 3-2.