Spectators sit respecting social distance to limit the spread of COVID-19 as Norway’s Casper Ruud rplays Serbia’s Novak Ðjokovic during their semifinal at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse via AP)

Shapovalov loses to Schwartzman in Italian Open semifinals

Schwartzman will play world No. 1 Novak Djokovic

ROME — Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s steady run at the Italian Open ended Sunday with a semifinal loss to Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

The No. 8-seeded Schwartzman beat Shapovalov 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) to advance to Monday’s finals, where he’ll play world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Shapovalov, the No. 12 seed from Richmond Hill, Ont., has had a string of good results over the last two weeks, including his first quarterfinal appearance at a Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last week.

He’s projected to reach a career-high No. 10 in the latest round of rankings, unless Schwartzman upsets Dkojovic in Monday’s final. That would be a second huge upset of the week for Schwartzman, who stunned Rafael Nadal, a master on clay, in the quarterfinals.

Shapovalov says he’s not putting too much thought into where his ranking ends up after this tournament.

“I’m going to keep working, keep improving and if I don’t get (into the top 10) now then I’ll just keep pushing to try to break through,” Shapovalov said. “But I’m only 21 so I’m really happy with having that chance right now to come that close.”

Shapovalov was looking to get into the final of a Masters 1000 tournament for just the second time in his career. He made the finals of the Paris Masters last November before losing to Djokovic.

Sunday’s match was the first between Shapovalov and Schwartzman, a 28-year-old who opened the week ranked one below the Canadian at No. 15.

“I don’t know if there was a key, we were both playing very even tennis,” Shapovalov said. “It was just a couple points. I think it was a great match from both of us. We both deserved to win today.”

Schwartzman needed a thrilling tiebreak to earn the win following a third set that saw each player break the other’s serve three times. The Argentine went up 5-4 in the tiebreak before earning two mini breaks for the victory.

Shapovalov had 10 aces to Schwartzman’s zero but also double faulted eight times.

“I had a chance to win it up a break twice in the third set, so I’m happy I was able to almost find a way to win despite struggling with one of my main weapons today,” Shapovalov said.

Earlier Sunday, Djokovic advanced to the finals in an eventful win against Casper Ruud.

Exactly two weeks after he was defaulted from the U.S. Open, and a day after he was warned by the chair umpire for breaking his racket in a fit of rage, Djokovic received an obscenity warning midway through the 7-5, 6-3 win.

The obscenity came in the third game of the second set, by which time Djokovic had a running dialogue with the chair umpire over a series of contested calls.

“I deserved the warning,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t say nice things in my language.

“I had a couple of disputes with the chair umpire with those calls,” Djokovic added. “As I understood, I was three out of three right, but doesn’t matter. Everybody makes mistakes. It’s fine. It was a kind of the heat of the battle. There is a lot of intensity on the court. A lot of pressure for him, for both players. It’s kind of whatever happens, happens.”

As opposed to his previous two outbursts, this time there were fans in the stands who could clearly hear how Djokovic dealt with his frustration.

With 1,000 spectators allowed in to the Foro Italico for the first time this week, a large proportion of those in attendance were children.

“I don’t want to do it, but when it comes, it happens,” Djokovic said Saturday. “That’s how I, I guess, release sometimes my anger. And it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me. I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

Ruud was Nick Kyrgios’ opponent during last year’s Italian Open when the Australian walked off the court and threw a chair onto the red clay, leading to him being defaulted and fined.

“Some players, or especially Djokovic, (are) very passionate,” Ruud said. “Some players just by nature can show more emotions than other ones. That’s part of the game.”

Djokovic’s behaviour once again overshadowed his performance, in a match where he had to save two set points when Ruud served for the first set at 5-4 — one of them with a delicate backhand drop-shot winner.

The top-ranked Djokovic also served five aces in a single game to take a 6-5 lead in the first.

Ruud, 21, the first Norwegian player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal and a product of Rafael Nadal’s academy, put up plenty of resistance and also produced the shot of the day: a leaping over-the-shoulder hook shot for a winner as he raced back to chase down a lob — earning a thumbs-up from Djokovic.

“He has that pattern of play on clay with a lot of spin,” Djokovic said. “I’m sure we will see more of him in the big tournaments, especially on this surface. He’s got the game.”

Djokovic improved to 30-1 this year. His only loss came when he was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta.

In Djokovic’s 10th Rome final — he has won four.

In the women’s final, top-seeded Simona Halep will face second-seeded Karolína Plíšková, the defending champion.

Halep reached her third Rome final by beating Garbiñe Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to improve her record in tennis’ restart to 9-0. Plíšková defeated fellow Czech and last year’s French Open finalist Markéta Vondroušová 6-2, 6-4.

Muguruza struggled with her serve and double faulted on the final two points of the 2 hour, 16-minute match.

Halep lost to Elina Svitolina in the 2017 and 2018 finals.

“I’m not playing (Svitolina), so I have a plus,” Halep said. “I have just to manage it a little bit better than previous years. … Now I’m more mature. So let’s hope that I can be better tomorrow and to win it.”

The second-ranked Halep is 13-0 overall stretching back to February, when she won a title in Dubai. After the tour’s five-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Romanian returned by raising another trophy in Prague last month. She then skipped the U.S. Open due to travel and health concerns.

Plíšková dictated play against Vondroušová with her serve, hitting six aces to Vondroušová’s one and saving five of the seven break points she faced.

The French Open starts next weekend.

By The Associated Press

Tennis

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