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Djokovic shows what’s been missing in Italy

ROME (AP) – It was just the type of scrambling, wear-down-the-opponent mentality and shot-making that took Novak Djokovic to within one match of a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2021.

A spectacle that was missing for so much of this year when Djokovic didn’t play because he wasn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The top-ranked Djokovic brought the Foro Italico crowd to its feet with several memorable points in a 7-5, 7-6 (1) win over Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday.

To conclude a long rally, Djokovic produced a delicate backhand topspin lob winner over the leaping Auger-Aliassime to break serve and lead 4-2 in the second set.

Djokovic celebrated the lob winner by raising both of his arms above his head then urged the packed crowd on Campo Centrale to cheer louder by gesturing with his hands.

“It was high-level tennis,” Djokovic said. “He did ask me to raise the level and I had to play consistently well.”

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns during the quarter finals match at the ATP Rome Open tennis tournament. PHOTO: AFP

While he is still seeking his first title of the year, Djokovic was ensured by the victory of holding on to the number one ranking for another week and have the top seed at the French Open.

Number two Daniil Medvedev can no longer pass Djokovic when the rankings are updated tomorrow.

Roland Garros starts in nine days and Djokovic is gearing up for his first Grand Slam tournament of the year after he was deported from Australia.

Playing the ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime for the first time, Djokovic took some time before he started reading the Canadian’s big serve.

Then he stepped up his game and hit an off-balance cross-court forehand winner to break and take the first set.

Auger-Aliassime showed some touch early on when he pulled off a backhand half-volley winner to conclude a rally in the second game.

In the end, though, it was Djokovic – playing his 16th consecutive quarterfinal at the clay-court tournament – who won all the big points. Like when he ran down two smashes and responded with two defensive lobs before stepping in to whip a cross-court backhand winner during the tiebreaker.

Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who beat Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (7), 7-5.

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