This is just what Novak Djokovic needed just over a week before starting his French Open title defence.
The top-ranked Serb beat Casper Ruud 6-4 6-3 at the Italian Open on Saturday to reach his biggest final of the year, in the process registering his 1000th career win.
Having missed a big portion of the season because he wasn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus, Djokovic will attempt to extend his five-match winning streak over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
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“I can expect a big battle,” Djokovic said. “But I’m ready for it.”
Tsitsipas reached his first Rome final by rallying past Alexander Zverev 4-6 6-3 6-3.
Djokovic is seeking his sixth title in the Italian capital.
Djokovic became ony fifth man in the Open era to reach the 1000 victories mark after Jimmy Connors (1274 wins), Roger Federer (1251), Ivan Lendl (1068) and Rafael Nadal (1051).
After the match, Djokovic was presented with a cake with “1000” written on it.
“I was seeing Roger and Rafa celebrating those milestones and I was looking forward to get to 1000 myself,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic is playing only his fifth tournament of the year, with his best previous result the final of the smaller Serbia 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 jumped out to 5-1 in the opening set with an array of shot-making that negated his opponent’s power.
On one point early on when Ruud pushed Djokovic wide of the doubles alley, the Serb practically did the splits as he responded with a backhand winner up the line with his racket just a few inches above the red clay court.
Djokovic’s most recent match against Tsitsipas came in last year’s French Open final, when he rallied from two sets down to take 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 in the Rome quarter-finals last year.
“I’ve looked back to those matches. I’ve analysed them,” Tsitsipas said. “There are things that didn’t work for me after two sets to love up in Roland Garros. I guess I was always pretty stubborn, didn’t want to change (tactics). … There’s always one more match where I can perhaps maybe do something different.”
Tsitsipas defended his title at the Monte Carlo Masters last month and is aiming for another big clay-court title.