World number one Novak Djokovic highlighted the joy of having fans back in full attendance after he collected his second consecutive straight sets win to advance to the third round of the French Open, beating Alex Molcan 6-2 6-3 7-6 (7-4).

In his first-round fixture against Yoshihito Nishioka, Djokovic won 55 per cent of the total points in the first set, and increased that number in the second and third.

This time, however, it was Molcan who was slowly improving as the match wore on, as Djokovic won 70 per cent of the first-set points, 57 per cent in the second and 53 per cent as he was taken to a tie-breaker in the third.

Speaking to the media after his win, the Serbian star said he feels in good touch, and gave credit to his "tricky opponent".

"I'm pleased with the way I'm feeling on the court [and] the way I’ve been striking the ball," he said.

"I think today was also under challenging conditions and playing against a specialist on clay, someone that is a tricky opponent and coming off from the [Lyon] final last week. 

"It was never going to be an easy match, but I thought I performed very well."

He went on to discuss how energising it is to have a full crowd after there was a limited capacity for his 2021 triumph.

"It's great to see the crowd back [and] the full capacity on all courts," he said. "Lots of young people, lots of kids, this is something that I really love to see.

"It always gives you energy. For me at this stage of my career, a crowd and this energy of people coming to watch me play is one of the biggest reasons why I keep on competing [and] playing professional tennis."

Djokovic will play Slovakian Aljaz Bedene in the third round, and despite being aware of his collision course with Rafael Nadal set for the quarter-finals, he said looking ahead that far serves little purpose.

"You are aware what's going on with the other guys, at least in my case, and I know that everyone else is watching everybody else," he said.

"[But] that cannot be dominating most of your time and energy that you invest in a day. 

"So you are aware, but then of course it's really not up to you what they do. It's what you have to do, win matches and make good results."

Novak Djokovic progressed to the third round of the French Open with a 6-2 6-3 7-6 (7-4) and progress to the third round at the French Open.

Reigning Roland Garros champion Djokovic needed just half-an-hour to wrap up the first set and looked on his way to a routine win after taking the second set with similar ease.

But Molcan, coached by Djokovic's former mentor Marian Vajda, rallied in the third set, breaking the world number one for the first time.

He forced deuce at 6-5 up on Djokovic's serve, but the 20-time grand slam champion reeled off two straight points to take the set to a tie-break.

World number 38 Molcan started the tie-break by putting Djokovic onto the back foot, forcing the Serbian to scamper across the baseline with some wonderful volleys. He saved the first of three match points with a superb drop shot, but ultimately his opponent had too much.

Djokovic, who struck 10 aces and 40 winners in  a match that lasted two hours and 16 minutes, will face Aljaz Bedene in round three.

Data Slam: Seventeen and counting for Novak

Djokovic, who has won the French Open twice, has now made it into the third round at Roland Garros for the 17th straight year, since making his second appearance at the grand slam back in 2006.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 40/19
Molcan – 31/34

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 10/0
Molcan – 4/2

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 4/8
Molcan – 1/2

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have paid tribute to the "charismatic" Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after the 37-year-old brought his 18-year professional career to a close.

Tsonga, who reached a career-high ranking of world number five in 2012, confirmed in April that he would retire at the culmination of his French Open campaign.

That duly came in the first round on Tuesday as he bowed out to world number eight Casper Ruud 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-6 (7-0).

He retires having won, according to Opta, 464 Tour-level matches since September 2004.

Tsonga is one of just three players, along with Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, to have beaten Nadal, Federer and Djokovic while they were ranked world number one.

He is also one of three players, alongside Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych, who have defeated Nadal, Federer and Djokovic at grand slams.

A video tribute was played on court after his defeat to Ruud, which featured messages from the sport's most iconic players.

Federer said: "I wanted to congratulate you on an amazing career and it was a pleasure to share the court with and play against you, even to lose against you!

"We had some great battles. Enjoy the moment in Paris with all your friends and family, in front of all your adoring spectators."

Djokovic added: "Jo is one of the most charismatic tennis players ever to play the game. I was very happy to share the court with him many times.

"We get along well and he's a really nice guy. He brought a lot of positive attention and popularity to our sport not just because of his dynamic game style, but also his charisma and his personality, so it's a big loss for professional men's tennis to have him retire.

"I wish him all the best, and he definitely should be happy about his career and his achievements. He's made his mark and his legacy in our sport."

Nadal said: "He is very charismatic. I've known him since we were kids; he is a good guy and I think he brings a lot of positive things to our sport so I'm sad to see him going but we are getting old so it's going to happen for everyone."

Speaking at a media conference after his defeat, Tsonga said he would now spend some time relaxing before focusing on the development of his tennis academy.

He said he will miss the adrenaline of playing on court, as well as how he was able to express himself completely when competing.

"It's adrenaline, to step onto a big court like this one," he said. "It's adrenaline you can feel when you have 15,000 people shouting out your name, supporting you on the court.

"This is what I'm going to miss – the contact with the crowd. And with those who have been supporting me for all these years.

"You know, in real life, it's sometimes difficult to be intense. You don't want to shock, you don't want to be too rude, you don't want to hurt somebody.

"You always try to act to be nice, to be sociable. But, you know, on the court, you can express your fever. You can express everything about you, and it's sometimes freeing."

Andrey Rublev is unsure what the best course of action is ahead of Wimbledon, but hopes tennis can "work together" to ensure the grand slam goes ahead, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic targeting history. 

Wimbledon was last week stripped of its ranking points by the WTA and ATP over the decision from The All England Club to ban Belarusian and Russian players – including Rublev – from competing.

That decision was made in the midst of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

With ranking points now not on offer, several high-profile players, including former WTA number one Naomi Osaka, have suggested they may skip the tournament.

Rublev might have no choice not to compete at Wimbledon, unless The All England Club scraps the ban altogether, but he says it is of utmost importance that tennis comes together to find a solution.

And Rublev believes the very elite players – such as Nadal and Djokovic – will compete anyway, regardless of ranking points or prize money, as he suggested tennis owes the duo, along with fellow great Roger Federer.

He told a news conference: "I don't know, because I haven't talked with any player about it, especially top ones. I guess the top players, especially Rafa, Novak, they are not playing now for points or for money.

"They are playing to be the first in history who achieve this amount of slams. So they are playing for a different thing. That's why it's very important to work together, to keep this amazing glory that we are having now, because of these players.

"If we are not going to work together, we just destroy it. What Roger, what Rafa, what Novak is doing, they did all these years. 

"They are other players from another generation, and we have to respect this, and that's why somehow we need finally to defend each other. Players need to defend the tournaments. Tournaments need to defend the players.

"Like this, tennis will grow, grow, grow a lot, because now all the success of tennis is only because of these three players, because of Roger, Rafa and Novak."

Rublev came through his first-round match at Roland Garros on Tuesday, defeating Kwon Soon-woo 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 6-4.

However, the seventh seed lashed out after losing the first set, recklessly hitting a ball out onto the court as he approached his chair, before slamming a water bottle into the court in frustration.

"I was quite tight, and I had a lot of emotions and I tried to really control them," Rublev said. 

"I tried to understand the situation. Be positive. I was able to be quiet and just be positive basically until the end of the first set. Then, yes, I lost my mind for a moment, and of course I regret what I did.

"It's unacceptable to hit the ball the way I hit it. It's more, I don't know, better even, if I just hit the racquet on the seat, because the ball can affect – I mean, it's not about me – it can affect someone. That's when the problem comes.

"This is unprofessional from my side, and hopefully I will never do it again."

Novak Djokovic found his footing after the first set to cruise past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3 6-1 6-0 in Monday's opening round, and said he feels good returning to Roland Garros after winning the French Open in 2021.

It was a relatively close opening set of the tournament for Djokovic, as Nishioka created three break-point opportunities compared to the Serb's two, but Djokovic was able to save all three, while capitalising on one of his own.

Overall for the first set, Djokovic won 55 per cent of the total points, and that number climbed the longer the match went on. He won 63 per cent of the points in the second set, and 67 per cent in the third.

Speaking with the media after his match, Djokovic was excited to be back on clay as he seeks his third French Open crown – the only grand slam he has not won at least three times.

"I have to be pleased with the match," he said. "I struggled to adapt in the first set. 

"He is a very quick player. The first set was close, but I cruised through the second and third.

"I always expect the highest for myself, but it was a very good start. I have been feeling well on clay in the past few weeks. 

"I am happy to be back. The memories from last year are fresh in my mind."

In the second round, Djokovic will play the winner between Alex Molcan and Federia Coria.

Novak Djokovic started the defence of his French Open title with an emphatic straight-sets defeat of Yoshihito Nishioka.

The world number one, bidding to win a record-equalling 21st grand slam title, triumphed 6-3 6-1 6-0 in the first night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier a day after turning 35.

Djokovic was unable to play in the Australian Open after being deported from Melbourne, but hit the ground running in his first major match of the year under the lights at Roland Garros on Monday.

The top seed hit 35 winners as Japanese outsider Nishioka was given a lesson and will face Alex Molcan or Federico Coria in the second round.

Djokovic was gifted a first break when his left-handed opponent double-faulted to go 4-2 down and the Serb comfortably served out the set.

Nishioka had no answer to the two-time French Open champion and the crowd did not do the outsider any favours by booing one of the all-time greats, seemingly due to him being so superior to his opponent.

A fired-up Djokovic marched into a 5-0 lead in the second set and, although Nishioka was able to avoid a bagel, he could not take a game off the defending champion in another totally one-sided third set.

This was a statement victory for Djokovic on the back of his record-extending 38th ATP Masters 1000 crown in Rome.

 

Data Slam: Relentless Djokovic shows no mercy

This was another exhibition of returning from the favourite to win the title. Djokovic won 45 of 79 receiving points in a relentless display on day two.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 35/32
Nishioka – 17/32

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 9/0
Nishioka – 6/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 8/18
Nishioka – 1/6

Novak Djokovic returns to the grand slam arena, Carlos Alcaraz is threatening to follow in the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, and Iga Swiatek is suddenly unstoppable.

The French Open is rich in promise as the Roland Garros clay courts are swept in anticipation of the greats of tennis stepping out to begin their campaigns.

It has been the women's draw that has looked the most wide open in recent seasons, yet this year it is hard to look beyond Swiatek; however, the men's title battle promises to provide a sensational battle.

Here, Stats Perform assesses the contenders for the two main trophies: the Coupe des Mousquetaires and the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.


KID INTERRUPTS G.O.A.T. RACE

Nadal took full advantage of Djokovic and Roger Federer being absent from the Australian Open, carrying off his 21st grand slam title to go top of the men's all-time list, one ahead of those two great rivals.

Federer is again missing, rehabbing after knee surgery, and the likelihood is he has played his final major already, but Djokovic is emphatically back. His confidence is surging once more, having taken a knock amid the drama of his deportation from Australia in January and being frozen out of the Indian Wells and Miami events due to the United States' COVID-19 rules.

A semi-final run in Madrid, where he lost a three-set monster to Alcaraz, was followed by Djokovic carrying off the Rome title for a sixth time when he saw off Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

Djokovic turns 35 on Sunday, as main-draw action gets under way in Paris, but he is the defending champion and firmly believes he can succeed again.

Assessing his prospects for Paris, Djokovic said after his Rome triumph: "With rankings and the way I've been playing in the last few weeks, I would rate myself as one of the favourites. I don't obviously spend too much time thinking who's going to win it or who might have the best chance. I always think about myself.

"I go there with the highest ambitions. I really like my chances. Best-of-five, you play every second day. It's a grand slam. It's different. Really, the grand slams are played different. You have to approach it differently. But the way I've been feeling on the court and off the court in the last few weeks, I really think I can go far."

The chief threat to Djokovic could come not from 'King of Clay' Nadal, but from the 13-time champion's fellow Spaniard, 19-year-old Alcaraz.

Bidding to become the first teenage winner of the men's title since Nadal, also 19, triumphed for the first time in 2005, Alcaraz arrives in Paris with four titles already secured this year, including three on clay in Rio, Barcelona and Madrid. The other title came on hardcourt at the Masters 1000 event in Miami, and Alcaraz has rocketed from 32nd at the start of the year to number six in the world rankings.

Many expect his grand slam haul to reach double digits, just like the Big Three he has grown up watching and learning from. The first slam must come somewhere, and it might well come in Paris in a fortnight's time.

Don't discount Nadal, but his form has been a shade unconvincing since coming back from a rib injury, while Tsitsipas looks the next most likely after winning on clay in Monte Carlo and finishing runner-up to Djokovic in Rome. The Greek has unfinished business in Paris, after the heartache of losing last year's final from two sets up.

 

IGA TO PLEASE? POLE GOES FROM SHOCK WINNER TO FIRM FAVOURITE

The first thing to point out is that the French Open women's singles title has been won by eight different players in the last eight years.

Iga Swiatek was a surprise champion in 2020, at the tournament that was delayed until the Paris autumn due to the pandemic. She was ousted by Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals last year but returns on a roll, having won an incredible five consecutive tournaments.

The 20-year-old has won 38 of the last 39 sets she has contested, the odd one out going against her on a tie-break, and her winning streak has reached 28 matches. Since Ash Barty retired, nobody has been able to lay much of a glove on Swiatek.

If she wins the French Open, that run will reach 35 matches, equalling the longest run in the 2000s, previously achieved by Venus Williams during a glory run that saw her win events including Wimbledon, the Olympic Games and US Open in the year 2000.

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has been spoken of as a possible challenger to Swiatek, but she was swatted away 6-2 6-2 by the youngster in the Rome final last weekend.

So who challenges the favourite? Even those who have been there and done that struggle to look beyond Swiatek. According to Martina Navratilova: "You can’t be any hotter than she is right now."

Navratilova told the WTA website: "She looks pretty unbeatable on any surface, particularly the clay now."

The last player to beat Swiatek was Jelena Ostapenko, in Dubai. Ostapenko, a surprise 2017 French Open champion, had a sizzling spell of form in February but has gone off the boil since. It might take someone of her hard-hitting nature to knock Swiatek out of her stride, though, so if Ostapenko can navigate the early rounds she becomes a real contender. The Latvian's career record against Swiatek? An impressive 3-0.

Who else? Simona Halep's coaching tie-up with Patrick Mouratoglou – Serena Williams' former coach of long-standing – has raised eyebrows and now it might be time for it to raise her results level too. Halep has won in Paris before, in 2018, so don't count her out.

Aryna Sabalenka, Sakkari, Paula Badosa. Such players come into the mix if Swiatek slips up, but there has been scant sign of that happening.

Novak Djokovic is banking on experience being a telling factor after the defending champion was handed a daunting draw at the French Open.

To reach another final, Djokovic may have to get past 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in the last eight and in-form teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.

Djokovic described Alcaraz's rise to prominence as "a quantum leap", with the 19-year-old from Murcia having hurtled from 32nd in the world rankings at the start of the year to number six now.

Ahead of 35th birthday celebrations on Sunday, Djokovic is relieved to be back at a grand slam after being deported from Australia in January due to his stance on COVID-19 vaccinations.

He was also prevented from playing the Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, meaning his season has been heavily disrupted.

Ahead of a first-round clash with Yoshihito Nishioka in Paris, Djokovic can be seen to be in good physical shape and strong form, having won the Internazionali d'Italia title in Rome last week for a sixth time.

The bunching of Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz, widely considered the three most likely winners, in one side of the draw, caused a stir on Thursday.

Speaking 24 hours later, Djokovic described it as "a very tough top half", before assessing the qualities of Nadal, who has been battling injuries recently, and the fast-rising Alcaraz.

"Nadal always has to be right at the top, because of his records particularly in this tournament," Djokovic told a news conference.

"Then you have Alcaraz that obviously is the story of men's tennis in the last four or five months with a big reason. He's had some tremendous leaps forward on rankings and the results that he's been achieving are phenomenal for someone of his age."

Alcaraz has won a tour-leading four titles in 2022, including Masters 1000 events in Miami and Madrid, and Djokovic said: "He has made a quantum jump really forward in the last five, six months."

Djokovic and Alcaraz practised together on Friday on Court Philippe Chatrier, where they could be battling it out for real in two weeks' time.

The Serbian, one behind Nadal's record of 21 grand slam titles, added: "I feel I am always in that contention to fight for any grand slam trophy. I believe in my own abilities to get far and to fight for one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of tennis.

"As a defending champion of course more so, to believe I can do it again. Reliving the memories from last year is something that obviously gives me goose bumps and motivation to try to replicate that.

"I think that experience of being on the tour for such a long time helps [me] to know how to spend energy on the court match after match, bring out the right intensity, manage everything that happens off the court, as well, and peak at the right time."

Alcaraz has achieved all his title success in best-of-three tennis so far, so winning over the longer distance in a slam is the next challenge. This is where Djokovic has arguably been at his strongest.

"In best-of-five, obviously things are different," Djokovic said. "A grand slam I think awakens so much motivation and emotions in a tennis player.

"It's the dream of many tennis players to win a grand slam. That's why you cannot underestimate anyone and probably not compare the performances of those players on any other tournament with the potential performance here in a slam."

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz are all on the same half of the draw at the French Open, while women's world number one Iga Swiatek will face a qualifier in the first round at Roland Garros.

Djokovic, who will make his Grand Slam return having missed the Australian Open, opens in Paris against Yoshihito Nishioka, while record 21-time grand slam winner Nadal meets Australia's Jordan Thompson.

The veteran pair of Djokovic and Nadal could challenge each other in the quarter-finals in the top half of the draw, where Alcaraz could come across world number three Alexander Zverev.

Alcaraz faces a qualifier in the first round and has won 16 of his last 17 matches, with the one blemish on his remarkable run coming against Sebastian Korda, who the Spaniard could meet in the third round.

Daniil Medvedev will have to get past Argentine Facundo Bagnis in the first round, while Lorenzo Musetti stands in the way of last year's runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Medvedev and Tsitsipas are joined in the wide-open bottom half of the draw by Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev, who meet home favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and South Korea's Soonwoo Kwon respectively.

In the women's draw, 2020 champion Swiatek comes in as favourite and will look to continue her 28-match winning streak when she faces a qualifier in the first round, as does US Open winner Emma Raducanu.

The Brit will then take on Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Wang Xinyu before a potential last-16 meeting with Ons Jabeur, who first has to get past Poland's Magda Linette.

Meanwhile, Karolina Pliskova – who has a first-round clash with France's Tessah Andrianjafitrimo – could set up a quarter-final meeting with Swiatek, but the Pole may have to get past Simona Halep in the fourth round first.

Defending champion Barbora Krejcikova starts against Diane Parry, while Naomi Osaka was drawn against the in-form Amanda Anisimova, who beat the Japanese in the third round of the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic became the oldest winner of the Internazionali d'Italia men's singles title in the Open Era as he fended off Stefanos Tsitsipas on the clay in Rome.

The world number one said he played a "perfect set" to race through the opener, before coming from a break down in the second to earn a 6-0 7-6 (7-5) victory in Sunday's final.

Djokovic made it a record-extending 38th Masters 1000 title in what was his 55th final at this level, and it was his sixth triumph at this event in the Italian capital.

At 34 years, 11 months and 23 days old, Djokovic is 10 days older than the previous oldest Rome champion, Rafael Nadal, who took the title last year.

He boosted his head-to-head record to 7-2 against Greek star Tsitsipas, winning their last six matches and all five they have contested on clay, including last year's French Open final where Djokovic came from two sets behind to scoop the grand slam. This victory clearly augurs well for Djokovic's upcoming title defence in Paris.

Djokovic broke serve to love in the opening game, Tsitsipas swatting a volley into the net to hand over the early advantage and set the tone for a wildly one-sided set.

Tsitsipas broke to lead 3-1 in the second set and he served for it at 5-3 but was broken to 15, sending a forehand wide on game point. The tie-break that soon followed was hard fought, with Tsitsipas looping a backhand long on match point as Serbian Djokovic earned the trophy once again.

Reflecting on his fast start, and his first title of 2022, Djokovic said on Amazon Prime: "I pleasantly surprised myself, I can say, even though I had a clear game plan and strategy coming into the match. I knew what to expect from the other side so I knew what I had to do, but I did play a perfect set, no doubt about it.

"After that it was a little bit tight, the beginning of the second for me. He used it, and at this level one or two points can turn a match around and he was back in the game. At 4-1 up for him and 30-40, the match could have easily gone into a third set, but I somehow managed to find the right shots at the right time to come back in the game, and the tie-breaker, I guess I was just an inch better, maybe calmer, and it was a tight tie-break for both of us."

Ahead of the French Open, which gets under way next Sunday, Djokovic is feeling in great shape for his title defence. Having missed the Australian Open in January in a deportation drama, Djokovic will head to Paris as a major rival to teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz.

Should Djokovic triumph at Roland Garros, he would match Nadal's men's record of 21 grand slams.

"I've been building my form in the last couple of weeks and like the previous years I knew that my best shape on clay was usually coming around Rome time," Djokovic said.

"So it couldn't be a better time, coming into Roland Garros with a title at this wonderful tournament. I'm going to Paris with a lot of confidence."

Novak Djokovic claimed his 1,000th ATP Tour win with a dominant victory over Casper Ruud in the semi-final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Saturday.

The world number one was in fine touch, winning an imposing 40 per cent of return points on first serve as he defeated the Norweigian world number 10 6-4 6-3 and progressed to the Rome final.

The Serbian becomes the fifth player in the open era to reach 1,000 wins, joining Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

After the match, Djokovic asserted how seeing contemporaries in Federer and Nadal achieve respective milestones in 2015 and 2020 provided motivation.

"Thanks to the tournament and the crowd for celebrating the milestone with me," Djokovic said post-match.

"I've seen Roger and Rafa celebrate those milestones in the last couple of years and I was looking forward to get to that 1,000 myself. I'm really, really blessed and privileged to have that many victories on the tour.

"It's been a long time, ever since I won my first match on the tour. Hopefully I can keep going and many more victories to come."

Djokovic will look for victory 1,001 when he faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final, after he defeated Alexander Zverev 4-6 6-3 6-3.

The 34-year-old leads their head-to-head matchup 6-2, with the last meeting being Djokovic's epic five-set win in the French Open final last year. Djokovic also won last year's quarter-final in Rome between the two.

This final appearance makes for the Greek world number five's best result in Rome, and he is savouring his time at the Foro Italico.

"It's one of those tournaments that I think has the most history in sport," Tsitsipas said. "As you can see looking around the sides, one of the most beautiful stadiums.

"There's a lot of history playing on these courts and you feel very proud that you made your way here and are able to participate in such a historically rich event."

Novak Djokovic will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia final after beating Casper Ruud.in straights sets to claim his 1,000th ATP Tour win.

Djokovic secured a return to the top of the rankings by defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime on Friday and the legendary Serb, who turns 35 next week, was celebrating again in Rome on Saturday after reaching an astonishing landmark.

The 20-time grand slam champion beat Ruud 6-4 6-3 at the Foro Italico to set up a repeat of last year's French Open final, which he won by storming back from two sets down to deny Tsitsipas a maiden major triumph.

Djokovic is only the fifth man in the Open Era to reach 1,000 wins and will take his record tally of ATP Masters 1000 finals to an incredible 55 on Sunday.

A five-time winner on the clay in the Italian capital, Djokovic made a blistering start, breezing into a 4-0 lead as Ruud was unable to hold twice under huge pressure from the Serb.

Ruud warmed to the task, breaking back to reduce the deficit to 5-3, but the first set was over when the 23-year-old sliced a backhand long after being forced wide by the top seed.

Norwegian Ruud started the second set with a commanding hold to love and there were no further break points until Djokovic moved into a 4-3 lead.

Ruud had saved three break points with excellent defence on the back foot, but Djokovic was not to be denied at the fourth time of asking.

Djokovic consolidated that break to stand on the brink of the final and then broke again to seal the victory with his 20th winner of the semi-final, dispatching a forehand beyond Ruud, who he beat at the same stage of this tournament two years ago.

The Belgrade native will be out to extend his record of ATP Masters 1000 titles to 36 when he faces Greek Tsitsipas for the first time since breaking his heart at Roland Garros last season.

Felix Auger-Aliassime proved no match for Novak Djokovic, who looks well set to claim his first title of 2022.

It has been a frustrating season to date for the Serbian, who reached a final in Belgrade last month before being beaten by rising star Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid earlier in May.

Yet with Rafael Nadal out of the picture, Djokovic is the clear favourite heading into the Internazionali d'Italia semi-finals, after he beat Auger-Aliassime 7-5 7-6 (7-1) on Friday.

The win not only tees up a semi-final against Casper Ruud, who saw off Nadal's conqueror Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (9-7) 7-5, but also ensures Djokovic will spend a 370th week at the top of the ATP rankings, after he slipped below Daniil Medvedev in the live standings.

Djokovic will add 360 points to his total for reaching the last four, and he now has a milestone 1,000th Tour-level win in his sights when he takes on Ruud for a place in the final. The 34-year-old has won a record 37 Masters 1000 titles so far in his career, including five in Rome.

"I thought it was high-level tennis," Djokovic said. "[Auger-Aliassime] 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. 

"I know Felix well. He's been around the top of the men's game for quite a few years. 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."

The other semi-final will see second seed Alexander Zverev, who beat Cristian Garin 7-5 6-2, take on Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Greek Tsitsipas overcame Jannik Sinner 7-6 (7-5) 6-2, becoming the first player to reach 30 wins on the ATP Tour in 2022.

"We have similar game styles but he is one of the most difficult players to play against on the Tour," Tsitsipas said, previewing his clash with Zverev.

"I have a lot of respect for him. He has achieved a lot so far and I try and look up to him with the things he has achieved."

Rafael Nadal suffered his earliest Internazionali d'Italia exit since 2008 at the hands of Denis Shapovalov on Thursday, but Novak Djokovic advanced to the quarter-finals. 

'King of Clay' Nadal fell to a 1-6 7-5 6-2 defeat to Shapovalov in the third round in Rome, with the Canadian surging to victory after winning 12 straight points from 2-2 in the deciding set. 

The legendary Spaniard stormed through the first set thanks to a series of brilliant returns, but his opponent dominated at the net in the second to take the match the distance. 

Shapovalov then flipped the narrative on its head by winning 14 of a possible 22 return points to set up a quarter-final meeting with Casper Ruud, who beat Jenson Brooksby 6-3 6-4. 

Djokovic is one win away from retaining his status as world number one after taking just 75 minutes to see off three-time grand slam winner Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-2. 

After a lengthy spell out injured, Wawrinka ended a 15-month wait for an ATP Tour victory at Foro Italico before the Serbian brought his run to an end. 

"It is great to see Stan back and winning. He won two tough matches. You can see he is still not physically where he wants to be. But, nevertheless, he is Stan Wawrinka and he can hurt you if you give him time," Djokovic said. 

"I managed to do well from the beginning. I really moved him around the court and held my serve comfortably except for that loss of my serve in the second set." 

Felix Auger-Aliassime stands between Djokovic and the number one spot after overcoming lucky loser Marcos Giron 6-3 6-2. 

In the other half of the draw, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner will play out an entertaining quarter-final after they beat Karen Khachano and Filip Krajinovic respectively. 

Alexander Zverev, the defeated finalist in Madrid last week, beat Alex De Minaur 6-3 7-6 (7-5) and will battle Cristian Garin for a place in the final four.

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