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By Chris Oddo | Saturday May 18, 2019

Argentina has been giving Novak Djokovic everything he can handle in Rome, but the World No.1 has fought off the nation’s two highest-ranked players in successive late night finishes to book a dream final at the Foro Italico with Rafael Nadal.

More #ibi19: Nadal Exacts Revenge on Tsitsipas, Remains Perfect in Rome Semi-Finals

Djokovic backed up last night’s epic win over gentle giant Juan Martin del Potro with a 6-3 6-7(2) 6-3 triumph over diminutive yet lion-hearted Diego Schwartzman.

Two difficult three-set encounters could make it tough for Djokovic to turn around for an afternoon final on Sunday in Rome, but the Serb is happy to be through nonetheless.

“I played a lot of tennis in the last couple of weeks,” said Djokovic, “Of course that’s what I was looking to do… now I’ve won nine matches in a row, obviously winning Madrid and reaching finals here is a great feeling. I had to work really hard last night and tonight as well.”

Djokovic looked to be firmly in control early in the second set. Both players were in good form, but it was Djokovic who won the big points early and took the opener without much fuss.

The pair were on serve through five games in the middle set, but Schwartzman broke through first to claim a 4-2 lead in the set and begin a shift in intensity and momentum in the match. Four breaks of serve later the pair were back on serve and on their way to a second-set tiebreaker, but Schwartzman’s daring tennis, and his near perfect employment of the drop shot juxtaposed with big baseline strokes off of both wings was enough to keep Djokovic off balance and get him through the tiebreaker with ease.

“He was striking the ball really well,” said Djokovic. “It was kind of hard to read his play, but I managed to stay tough and concentrated to the last point, and I’m really pleased with that.”

Djokovic and Schwartzman went toe-to-toe in the third set as well—it really was remarkable how well the Argentine was pushing Djokovic, but it was the World No.1 who pulled the shot of the evening at 30-30 in the fifth game, which opened the door for a critical break for 4-2 on the next point.

Djokovic held his serve in his next two service games and clinched the victory on his second match point when a Schwartzman backhand sank into the net.

It was another drawn-out battle that lasted two hours and 31 minutes, which means that Djokovic has spent over five and a half hours on court in his last two matches alone.

Nadal has spent just about six hours on court in his four matches, and he played the earlier semi-final on Saturday, so he figures to be the fresher player on Sunday.

Nadal and Djokovic met in Rome last season, just as Djokovic was beginning to find his form after a season and a half of troubles. Nadal took the semi-final in straight sets and now owns a 16-7 lifetime record against Djokovic on clay.

But Djokovic has surged to life in the last 52 weeks, and he has won 19 of 20 against the Top 10 since Wimbledon 2018.

“No.1 and No.2 playing against each other in one of the biggest events in sport, it’s always a thrill,” said Djokovic. “He sets a really high standard, especially on clay. He’s an ultimate challenge without a doubt.”

He added: “I look forward to it. Hopefully I can be ready enough physically and mentally to give my best.”


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