Novak Djokovic returned to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings Friday with a 7-5, 7-6(1) win over Felix Auger-Aliassime, guaranteeing a 370th week at the top of men’s tennis on Monday. After failing to serve out both sets at 5-3, the Serbian regrouped to close out each one in supreme style.
“I thought it was high-level tennis,” Djokovic said post-match. “He did ask me to raise the level and I had to play consistently well. I thought I could have finished the job earlier… but credit to him for fighting back. Amazing atmosphere as well tonight.”
After getting past the eighth seed in the pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting, Djokovic still has significant milestones on his mind over finals’ weekend at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
On Saturday, the Serbian seeks his 1,000th tour-level win when he meets Casper Ruud in the semi-finals. Should he advance to the final, the Belgrade native will chase a record-extending 38th ATP Masters 1000 title Sunday, one week shy of his 35th birthday.
Dropping 600 points at the beginning of this week for his runner-up finish in the Italian capital last year, Djokovic slipped to No. 2 behind Daniil Medvedev in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. (Reigning US Open champion Medvedev dropped just 10 points from an opening-round loss in Rome in 2021.) By adding 360 points for reaching the semi-finals, Djokovic has now reclaimed top spot.
Djokovic’s quarter-final win was far from routine despite a mid-set break in each stanza. Both he and Auger-Aliassime showcased their shotmaking and movement in equal measures throughout the match, dragging each other wide with extreme angles and up to net with well-timed drop shots.
The highlight-filled match was encapsulated by two points in the Canadian’s final service game. After Auger-Aliassime tracked down a drop volley for an impossible sliding winner, Djokovic raised the roof with his own forehand flick from the frontcourt.
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The World No. 1 also produced earlier hot shots on two crucial points on Centre Court. He finessed a cross-court forehand winner on set point in the opener, unleashing a roar after breaking the Canadian’s stubborn resistance. On his fourth break point of a long return game at 3-2 in the second, Djokovic flighted a teasing topspin lob just out of the reach of a leaping Auger-Aliassime to secure his third break of the match.
The 21-year-old showed great spirit to fight back in both sets. He broke back immediately in the first set to deny Djokovic’s attempt to serve it out, then created two break points in response to falling behind 2-4 in the second. After saving a match point on serve, Auger-Aliassime broke in his next return game to extend the contest, but could not match the World No. 1’s untouchable level in a one-sided tie-break.
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“I know Felix well. He’s been around the top of the men’s game for quite a few years,” Djokovic said of his worthy opponent. “He’s got a lethal serve, honestly… He’s hitting his spots in the box incredibly well with the serve, and it was not easy for me at all to return. He’s also returning well, he’s moving well. He’s a very complete player.
Djokovic dominated the Balance of Power and Conversion & Steal metrics in the match. He hit 27 per cent of his shots from attacking positions, up from his previous tournament average of 19 per cent. He also converted 78 percent of the points in which he gained an attacking advantage, while stealing 34 per cent of points from defence.
Djokovic next faces Ruud in a rematch of the 2020 Rome semi-finals. He also faced the Norwegian in the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals, winning both matches in straight sets.
“Great quality opponent again,” Djokovic previewed. “Clay-court specialist, but he has improved a lot in other surfaces, played the final of Miami this year. Just a very hard worker, nice guy.
“We practise a lot and get along well off the court. Tomorrow obviously on the court we want to win against each other, no doubt… Hopefully I can play as well as I did tonight.”