It was just the type of scrambling, attrition and shooting mentality that brought Novak Djokovic within one match of a calendar year Grand Slam in 2021.
A show that has been missed so much this year when Djokovic did not play because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Top-ranked Djokovic lifted the Foro Italico crowd with several memorable points in a 7-5, 7-6(1) win over Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the Open semis. Italy Friday.
To wrap up a long rally, Djokovic produced a tricky topspin backhand lob winner on Auger-Aliassime leaping to break serve and lead 4-2 in the second set.
Djokovic celebrated the lob winner by raising both arms above his head, then urged the packed Campo Centrale crowd to clap louder by gesturing with his hands.
Djokovic was pushed in both sets by Auger-Aliassime in the first clash between the players, but he hit a key hold after facing two break points in the seventh game of the second set, and crowned the match with five points consecutive in the tiebreaker.
Auger-Aliassime held on, shooting 11 aces and 28 winners, seven more than Djokovic.
“It was top level tennis,” Djokovic said. “He asked me to raise the level and I always had to play well.”
While still in search of his first title of the year, Djokovic was secured by victory to retain the No. 1 ranking for another week and be seeded at Roland Garros.
Second-placed Daniil Medvedev can no longer overtake Djokovic in Monday’s standings update.
Roland Garros starts in nine days and Djokovic is preparing for his first Grand Slam tournament of the year after being kicked out of Australia ahead of the Australian Open.
Playing ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime for the first time, Djokovic was slow to start reading the Canadian’s big serve. Then he stepped up his game and hit an unbalanced cross forehand to break through and win the first set.
Auger-Aliassime showed some touch early on when he landed a backhand half-volley winner to cap off a long rally in game two.
In the end, however, it was Djokovic – playing in his 16th consecutive quarter-final at the clay-court tournament – who took all the big points. Like when he ran two smashes and responded with two defensive lobs before stepping in to whip out a cross backhand in the tiebreaker.
Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who beat Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., 7-6 (7), 7-5.
Shapovalov knocked out 10-time Roma champion Rafael Nadal – who was suffering from a chronic left foot injury – on Thursday.
Ruud prevailed in a first-set home-and-away tie-break, going up 8-7 on the return and then earning his first set point on serve.
The second set ended in a crucial 11th game which saw Shapovalov battle seven break points before Ruud eventually won the match and took a 6-5 lead.
Serving for the match, Ruud finished off Shapovalov with an ace.
Additionally, 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 face Alexander Zverev in their third semi-final over the past month after the 2017 champion beat Cristian Garin 7-5, 6-2.
In the women’s tournament, Iga Swiatek extended her winning streak to 26 games by defeating former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., 7-6 (2), 6-0.
Swiatek struggled to break into the top five players last year. Now she has learned to use her recent success to intimidate.
“I needed time to learn how to do it right, to use the streak or the ranking to put pressure on my opponents,” Swiatek said. “Last year, when I had (a) better ranking (than my opponents), I felt like it was something that put pressure on me. This time it’s totally different.
In all, Swiatek produced 27 winners to Andreescu’s 12 and converted all six of his break points.
“I feel like I’m playing better and better every game,” Swiatek said. “Even though the first set was pretty tight, I had some ups and downs, I felt like I could play well in the important moments and come back at any time.
“I’m quite happy that the second set was also more solid because it shows that I’m learning my lessons throughout the match.”
The defeat ended an impressive run in Rome for Andreescu, who has played in just her third tournament since returning from a months-long hiatus since taking time out to recuperate both physically and mentally.
Friday’s match was the first WTA 1000 Series quarter-final on clay in Andreescu’s career.
Swiatek is looking to win his fifth tournament in a row and defend his title in Rome.
The last player to win more consecutive games was Serena Williams in 2014-15, with a streak of 27.
Swiatek’s semifinal opponent will be third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who edged past Amanda Anisimova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 for her first win over the American in five tries.
Also advancing was recent Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur, who overtook Maria Sakkari, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 for his 10th consecutive victory. Jabeur will face Daria Kasatkina, who advanced when Jil Teichmann retired with a left thigh injury with Kasatkina ahead 6-4, 3-2.
Tsitsipas kept his cool as almost the entire crowd of 10,500 fans backed Sinner, the 13th-ranked Italian and considered a future Grand Slam contender.
But Sinner, 20, fell 0-12 in his career against top-five ranked opponents.
Sinner was treated by a physical trainer after twisting 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’m there. Physically, I have to improve.
With files from The Canadian Press