ROME — This is just what Novak Djokovic needed a week before the French Open.
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.
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.
Tsitsipas reached his first Rome final by rallying past Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic, seeking his sixth Rome title, recorded the 1,000th win of his career, making him only the fifth man to reach that mark after Jimmy Connors (1,274 wins), Roger Federer (1,251), Ivan Lendl (1,068) and Rafael Nadal (1,051).
After the match, Djokovic was presented with a cake with “1,000” written on it.
“I was seeing Roger and Rafa celebrating those milestones and I was looking forward to get to 1,000 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 semifinals 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 a split 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 semifinals two years ago, and they went the full three sets when Djokovic won in the Rome quarterfinals last year.
“I’ve looked back to those matches. I’ve analyzed 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 has been pushed to three sets in three of his four matches this week, having also overcome local favorite Jannik Sinner in straight sets in the quarterfinals.