Novak Djokovic digs deep to set up Italian Open showdown with Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic will take on Rafael Nadal in the Italian Open final for a sixth time after backing up a dramatic victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas by seeing off home hope Lorenzo Sonego.

Nadal holds the edge with three wins to Djokovic’s two in previous finals, while the Spaniard is bidding for a 10th title in Rome and his opponent a sixth.

The pair have shown once again this week why they have dominated the sport for so long with their physical and mental fortitude.

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Nadal saved two match points against Denis Shapovalov in the third round while Djokovic somehow came through a two-day thriller against Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals and then another three-setter against Sonego.

Postponed because of rain on Friday with Djokovic a set and a break down, the world number one also trailed in the deciding set against Tsitsipas before eventually coming through 4-6 7-5 7-5.

The Greek has arguably been the player of the season so far and he showed why, but he was unable to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set as Djokovic simply refused to be beaten.

The top seed returned to the court in the evening against Italian Sonego, who continued his giant-killing run on Saturday morning by knocking out Andrey Rublev 3-6 6-4 6-3.

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This looked set to be a more straightforward outing for Djokovic but he saw two match points come and go in the second set before finally clinching a 6-3 6-7 (5) 6-2 victory.

Now he will face Nadal for a 57th time looking for a first win on clay over his great rival since the quarter-finals of the same event five years ago.

Speaking on Amazon Prime Video, Djokovic said: “I only have myself to blame for not closing the match in straight sets. I need to recover, that’s what I’m focused on.

“I don’t have much time and I’ve played a lot of tennis so hopefully I’ll have fresh legs, because that’s what I’ll definitely need and it’s necessary in order to have a chance against Rafa.”

Nadal’s 6-4 6-4 victory over giant American Reilly Opelka came in his 500th match on clay and extended his record to a ridiculous 458 wins and 42 losses.

Rafael Nadal (right) defeated seven-foot-tall Reilly Opelka
Rafael Nadal (right) defeated seven-foot-tall Reilly Opelka (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

It maintained the Spaniard’s perfect record in semi-finals in the Italian capital, and he said: “Rome is such an important tournament for me. To be in the final again is so important for me.

“In terms of preparation for Roland Garros, I consider the job done. Tomorrow is not at all preparation. It’s a final, an important one, and I want to be competitive. I want to play a good match and let’s see.”