Impressive runs by Andreescu, Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime end in Rome
It was just the kind of mentality of fighting, wearing down the opponent and taking shots that led Novak Djokovic to a calendar year Grand Slam match in 2021.
A show that was lost for much of this year when Djokovic did not play because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Top-ranked Djokovic brought the Foro Italico crowd to its feet with several memorable points in a 7-5, 7-6 (1) win over Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday. .
To wrap up a long rally, Djokovic produced a delicate backhand topspin winner over a leaping Auger-Aliassime to break serve and lead 4-2 in the second set.
Djokovic celebrated winning the lob by raising both arms above his head and then urged the crowd gathered on the Campo Centrale to cheer louder with hand gestures.
Djokovic was pushed in both sets by Auger-Aliassime in the first meeting between the players, but made a key hold after facing two break points in the seventh game of the second set and capped the match with five straight points in the tiebreak.
Auger-Aliassime held his own, firing 11 aces and 28 game winners, seven more than Djokovic.
“It was high-level tennis,” Djokovic said. “He asked me to raise the level and I had to play consistently well.”
While still searching for his first title of the year, Djokovic secured victory by keeping the No. 1 ranking for another week and holding the top seed at the French Open.
Second-ranked Daniil Medvedev will no longer be able to overtake Djokovic when the rankings are updated on Monday.
Roland Garros starts in nine days and Djokovic is preparing for his first Grand Slam tournament of the year after being deported from Australia ahead of the Australian Open.
Playing ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime for the first time, Djokovic took some time before starting to read the Canadian’s big serve. He then stepped up his game and landed an off-balance forehand crosscourt winner to break and take the first set.
Auger-Aliassime showed some flair early on when she hit a backhand half-volley winner to wrap up a long rally in game two.
In the end, though, it was Djokovic, playing his 16th straight quarterfinal at the clay-court tournament, who won all the big points. Like when he executed two spikes and responded with two defensive lobs before stepping in to slam a backhand crosscourt in the tiebreaker.
Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who defeated Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ontario, 7-6(7), 7-5.
Shapovalov eliminated 10-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal, who was dealing with a chronic left foot injury, on Thursday.
Ruud prevailed in a back-and-forth tie break in the first set, going up 8-7 on the return and then serving his first set point on serve.
The second set came down to a crucial 11th game in which Shapovalov battled through seven break points before Ruud eventually won the game and took a 6-5 lead.
Serving for the match, Ruud finished off Shapovalov with an ace.
Also, fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas served 10 aces to defeat Jannik Sinner 7-6(5), 6-2 to reach his third straight Masters semi-final on clay.
Tsitsipas will meet Alexander Zverev in his third semifinal in the last 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 matches by beating former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ontario, 7-6(2), 6-0.
Swiatek struggled to manage being a top five player last year. He now he has learned to use his recent success to intimidate.
“I needed time to learn how to do it properly, how to use the streak or ranking to put pressure on my opponents,” Swiatek said. “Last year, when I had (a) better ranking (than the opponents), I felt that it was something that put pressure on me. This time it’s totally different.”
In all, Swiatek produced 27 game winners to Andreescu’s 12 and converted all six of his break points.
“I feel like every game I’m playing better and better,” Swiatek said. “Even though the first set was pretty tight, I had some ups and downs, I feel like I could play well in the big moments and bounce back anytime.
“I’m quite happy that also the second set was stronger because it shows that I’m learning my lessons throughout the match.”
The loss ended an impressive run in Rome for Andreescu, who played in just his third tournament since returning from a months-long hiatus since taking time off to recover physically and mentally.
Friday’s match was the first WTA 1000 series clay quarterfinal of Andreescu’s career.
Swiatek is trying to win his fifth tournament in a row and defend his title in Rome.
The last player to win more consecutive matches was Serena Williams in 2014-15, when she had a winning streak of 27.
Swiatek’s semifinal opponent will be third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who outclassed Amanda Anisimova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 for her first victory over the American in five attempts.
Also advancing was recent Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur, who edged out Maria Sakkari, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 for her 10th straight win. Jabeur will face Daria Kasatkina, who advanced when Jil Teichmann retired with a left thigh injury with Kasatkina leading 6-4, 3-2.
Tsitsipas kept his cool as almost the entire crowd of 10,500 fans rooted for Sinner, the 13th-ranked Italian who is considered a future Grand Slam contender.
But the 20-year-old Sinner dropped to 0-12 in his career against opponents ranked in the top five.
Sinner was treated by a fitness trainer after spraining his left hip during the final point of the first set.
His body is still developing physically.
“That’s where the gap is,” Sinner said. “In terms of tennis, I am there. Physically, I need to improve.”