ROME – This is exactly what Novak Djokovic needed a week before Roland-Garros.
The top-ranked Serbian beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-3 at the Italian Open on Saturday to reach his biggest final of the year.
Having missed much of the season because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus, Djokovic will look to extend his five-game winning streak against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
Tsitsipas reached his first final in Rome beating Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic, seeking his sixth title in Rome, recorded the 1,000th victory of his career, making him the fifth man to reach this record after Jimmy Connors (1,274 wins), Roger Federer (1,251), Ivan Lendl (1,068) and Rafael Nadal (1,051).
After the match, Djokovic received a cake with “1,000” written on it.
“I saw Roger and Rafa celebrating those milestones and I was looking forward to reaching 1,000 myself,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic is playing in only his fifth tournament of the year, with his best result coming before the final of the smaller Serbian Open, his home tournament, last month. Last week he was beaten by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open.
Against Ruud, the first Norwegian to break into the top 10, Djokovic surged to 5-1 in the first set with a series of shots that nullified his opponent’s power.
On an early point, when Ruud shoved Djokovic off the doubles lane, the Serb all but split as he responded with a backhand winner down the line with his racquet inches above the clay court red.
Djokovic’s most recent match against Tsitsipas came in last year’s French Open final, when he rallied after two sets to lift the trophy.
Djokovic also needed five sets to beat Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros semi-finals two years ago, and they went the full three sets when Djokovic won the quarter-finals in Rome last year.
“I watched those matches. I analyzed them,” Tsitsipas said. “There are things that didn’t work out for me after two sets to love at Roland Garros. I guess I was always quite stubborn, I didn’t want to change (tactics). … There’s always one more game where maybe I can maybe do something different.”
Tsitsipas has been pushed to three sets in three of his four matches this week, having also defeated home favorite Jannik Sinner in straight sets in the quarter-finals.