Having completed a dramatic 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 quarterfinal win over Juan Martin del Potro after 1 a.m. Saturday morning, Novak Djokovic was back on Court Centrale on Saturday night for his semifinal match. Once again, he was pushed to three sets. Once again, he survived, defeating Diego Schwartzman, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3.
On Sunday, Djokovic will play Rafael Nadal in a dream final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
After a somewhat routine 37-minute opening set, Djokovic was in trouble throughout the second set as Schwartzman twice went up a break, first for 4-2, and then—after dropping his serve in the next game —breaking again for 5-3. Djokovic clawed back and took the set to a tiebreak, but Schwartzman caught fire, winning six points in a row from 2-1 down to take the match to a third set.
After the two players stayed on serve through the first five games of the deciding set, Djokovic broke one last time for a 4-2 lead and never looked back. The world No. 1 eventually closed it out after two hours and 31 grueling minutes when Schwartzman missed a forehand into the net.
“It was very, very heavy conditions, probably the heaviest I’ve played in this year,” Djokovic said. “It was difficult for both of us, but he really didn’t have anything to lose and played really well. He mixed up the pace well with drop shots but also playing really fast—everything was bouncing low, around my waistline. He gave me a lot of difficulty from the baseline. I didn’t know what was coming next.
“I’m really glad I was able to stay tough when it was most needed.”
Schwartzman exits Rome with one of the biggest weeks of his career, not only reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal but also scoring his best-ever win in the quarterfinals over No. 6 Kei Nishikori.
Next up for Djokovic will be longtime rival Nadal, who beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first semifinal of the day, 6-3, 6-4, avenging a loss to the fast-rising Greek in the semifinals of Madrid last week.
Djokovic and Nadal will be playing each other for the 54th time, the most career meetings for any two men in the Open era (Djokovic and Roger Federer are second, with 47). And they’ll be playing each other for the 26th time in a final, also an Open era record (Djokovic and Federer are second, with 24).
Djokovic leads the overall head-to-head, 28-25, as well as their head-to-head in finals, 15-10.
Nadal leads on clay, 16-7, but that began as 9-0—they’ve split their last 14 clay-court meetings, 7-7.
“He keeps on showing to the world why he’s one of the biggest legends of tennis history,” Djokovic told ATPTour.com about Nadal. “I have the greatest respect for him. He’s my greatest rival of all time, for sure… Every time we get to play each other, it’s a thrill. It’s the ultimate challenge.
There are a few big milestones on the line Sunday, including the most Masters 1000 titles—whoever wins will capture a record 34th.
Also, if Nadal beats Djokovic, he’ll become the first player, male or female, to record 20 career wins over world No. 1s. He’s currently tied for the record with Boris Becker.
Combined, Djokovic and Nadal have won 12 of the last 14 titles in Rome, and it's guaranteed to become 13 of the last 15. Djokovic is a four-time champion here in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015, and Nadal is an eight-time champion in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018.