Lorenzo Sonego’s dream run at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2021 was ended by world number one Novak Djokovic, but what a fantastic semifinal it was, ended 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2 by the Serb, who’ll play Rafael Nadal for the trophy tomorrow.
The Italian, who had become the first local man to reach the final 4 in Rome since Filippo Volandri in 2007, played a sensational match to put the defending champion on the ropes, proving -if still needed- that his wins over Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev were no flash in the pan.
The match started with the Serb looking as focused as ever this week, dropping no point behind his serve until his third service game, while putting pressure on the Italian from the get-go. Sonego got broken in the fourth game, and though his level improved from there on, the set went on serve so Djokovic closed it 6-3.
The second set provided more drama and the epic fighting of the Italian fired up the spectators on Campo Centrale (how good is it to hear them again? Even if at a limited capacity they made the stadium seem full!) and started challenging Djokovic on each and every ball. The world number 33 was not afraid to go for his shots as well as to accept longer rallies, sometimes on the backfoot being tossed by the Serb around the court, sometimes trying unsettling dropshots and net rushes. The battled lived its most dramatic moments around the end of the set: Sonego won a 10 minute long 9th game, just to see Djokovic saving two set points in the following one and eventually break him for a 6-5 lead. The Serb had two match points, but twice the Italian denied them and finally found a way to break his serve to reach the tiebreak.
The Serb rushed to a 4-2 lead, but Sonego rose to the occasion and riding high on the support of fans won the next four points, eventually closing the tiebreak 7-5.
Sonego immediately had three break points in the first game of the decider. ‘Nole’, however, did not want to repeat the lethargic start he had against Stefanos Tsitsipas and instantly raised his level and run to a 5-2 lead. Sonego seemed to start feeling tired and Djokovic gave the match the final push, breaking his opponent to close the games at the first match point.
For Djokovic, tomorrow will be the 11th final in Rome, looking for his 6th success, but on the other side of the net, Nadal will be aiming to his 10th trophy out of 12 finals. It will be the 57th match between them, the 9th time in Rome.
“I have only myself to blame for not closing the match in two sets”, said Djokovic about his match, though he praised his opponent and admitted things might have looked differently if had not saved the break points in the first game: “At the end of the day he is showing why he reached his first semifinals. He’s a quality player. Not easy to play against him. Obviously, he had the crowd behind him. It was an electric atmosphere out there on the court”.
Sonego was also quite satisfied about his performance tonight and throughout the week: “I am over the moon for how this tournament went, I won a few matches when I could have easily lost before. To be in the semifinals, playing with world number one, it was fantastic, and I gave it all, so that I can leave Rome happy”.