Novak Djokovic plays a backhand against Casper Ruud (unseen) during their semi-final match of the Italian Open in Rome on Sunday. Reuters
Rome: Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep both advanced to the finals of the Italian Open on Sunday as fans returned to the stands at the Foro Italico for the first time this week.
World number one Djokovic booked a place in a 10th Rome final with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Norway’s Casper Ruud.
The Serb can win a record 36th Masters title on Sunday. He is currently tied on 35 with Rafael Nadal, who fell in the quarter-finals.
“I don’t take anything for granted, even after 15 years on the Tour, I still enjoy it,” said Djokovic, a four-time Rome champion who lost to Nadal in last year’s final.
“I still have a hunger for the titles and putting myself in a position to fight for the title is exactly where I want to be.”
Romania’s Halep earlier won the battle of former French Open champions against Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in the final tune-up on clay before Roland Garros in a week’s time.
“It’s been nice to see people in the crowd, even if they were not supporting me at all today,” said Halep.
“They were with Muguruza. But I was happy to see them and I felt the energy.”
Italy’s government from Sunday allowed up to 1,000 spectators at open-air sports events for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.
Djokovic was pushed in his first meeting with 34th-ranked Ruud, but knew how to tighten his game at key moments of an intense match, to the delight of the fans.
Third final for Halep : Wimbledon champion Halep held off a fightback from her Spanish rival.
After pulling level at a set-all, the ninth seed slumped 5-1 down in the third, before pulling out a string of winners to draw the match back to 4-5.
Serving to stay in the match, though, she hit successive double faults to hand Halep victory.
“In my opinion, she’s one of the best players in the world, even if she’s out of top 10 now. Doesn’t matter,” said Halep.
“It’s always tough to play against her.”
Halep extended her winning streak this season to 13 consecutive victories.
She won the Dubai title in February, before the coronavirus lockdown, coming back to claim victory in Prague last month having skipped the US Open. The 28-year-old lost her two previous finals in 2017 and 2018 to Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who exited in the quarter-finals this year.
“I’m not playing Svitolina so I have a plus,” said Halep.
“I have just to manage it a little bit better than previous years. But now I’m more mature, I really think. So let’s hope that I can be better tomorrow and to win it.”