Playing in the quarterfinals for the 14th straight year at the Foro Italico, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic shook off a surprising turn of events at the end of his second set with qualifier Dominik Koepfer on Saturday to set a matchup with rising 21-year-old Casper Ruud.
Djokovic recovered to defeat Koepfer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, after seeing his day at the office extended in relinquishing a set and a break lead. The story came on break points: the German converted all four of his chances, while in contrast, Djokovic kept creating opportunities that were ultimately not capitalized on. The most noteworthy swing came at 4-4 in the second set, when he missed three—including two at 15-40—before an uncharacteristic set of backhand errors suddenly saw the four-time champion head to his chair needing to prepare for a deciding set.
"I just wasn’t managing to make that final shot, that final step to win in straights," the Serbian would assess later.
After seeing four more break points evaporate in the opening game of the third set, Djokovic opened up another 0-40 lead in his next return game, resulting in Koepfer double faulting. Djokovic would ride his first serve to the finish line, wrapping up the win after two hours and 11 minutes. He finished six for 21 on break points.
The top seed came into this week tied with Rafael Nadal for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles in history with 35. He improved to 11-3 in last eight matches at the Internazionali d'Italia, winning his last seven, and is bidding for his first title at the venue in five years. In a rare semifinal Sunday, Djokovic will meet Ruud for the first time.
The Norwegian battled past No. 4 seed Matteo Berrettini, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), becoming the first player from his country to reach the final four of a Masters 1000-level event. Ruud won five more total points in the nailbiter, overcoming an early mini break deficit in the decisive tiebreaker to advance after two hours and 58 minutes. In February before the tennis tours shut down, Ruud captured his first ATP title at Buenos Aires, going 8-2 during the South American Golden Swing.