Opening the program on a day of clouds and unkind forecasts, Novak Djokovic and Holger Rune played at the same time to advance to the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and succeeded. The two are now set to battle for a spot in the last four at the Foro Italico.
Defending champion Djokovic was opposed to Cameron Norrie and looked the best fans saw him so far during the tournament. The Serb was focused from the very first moment he stepped on court -contrary to his first two matches in Rome, he held comfortably in the opening game- and immediately took a break lead. Despite some issues with the serve, the first seed did not leave any chances to his opponent throughout the first set to close 6-3.
Norrie, who is among the most tactical-savvy players on tour, tried to take the rhythm away from Djokovic with changes in angles and height of his shots, but for the first hour, it did not seem to bother the Serb.
Strong of another break quite early in the second set, Djokovic faltered in the third game, when a mix of Norrie’s good return allowed the Brit to have two chances to break. On the second, the 13th seed found himself close to his opponent at the net and ended up smashing a short lob right on Djokovic’s shoes as the Serb had already turned back to the net.
Norrie felt new power coming from the break and the match went on following serves until the ninth game, when he lost focus and his level dropped. Djokovic proved cynic and took the chance full hands to close in straight sets: 6-3 6-4.
In the meantime, Holger Rune looked ready to follow Djokovic on the same path, but Alexei Popyrin had other plans. The brilliant tennis of the Dane had him in control of the first set, where he took the first break and did not let go until the end. In the second set, however, the Aussie finally managed to find more consistency on return and this time the only break of serve was in his favour.
The high intensity continued throughout the decider and even if Popyrin fell behind in the fifth game, he did not give up trying to comeback, giving the public of the grandstand a superb match of tennis. The crowd went absolutely ballistic in the ninth game, when the Australian saved four match points to force Rune to try and serve it out, which he did at love minutes later for a final 6-4 5-7 6-4.
Djokovic had plenty good words for Rune throughout his press conferences these weeks, but said to be looking forward to their match: “We practiced quite a few times, but we played only once. I lost to him in Paris Bercy finals in a really close match, tough match. He’s one of the hardest workers out there. Nice guy. I get along well with him. On the court obviously we certainly want to win against each other. He kind of reminds me a little bit, the way he plays. Really fit physically, great defense, but also great counter-puncher“.
“He’s in very good form and I look forward to a challenge. I think it’s going to be a very physical match“, he closed.