Rune beats Djokovic again to reach Italian Open semis
Holger Rune has recorded his second victory over Novak Djokovic in little more than six months, beating the 22-time grand slam champion 6-2 4-6 6-2 to reach the Italian Open semi-finals.
Rune, who also defeated Djokovic in the Paris Masters final in November, gave the Serb fits with his rapid court coverage on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old Dane made his opponent hit extra balls on points that Djokovic thought he had already finished off.
"This is probably the coldest and wettest tournament I've ever played here in Rome," Djokovic said.
"In these kind of conditions, it's very difficult to get the ball past him. He's very, very fast, very quick. Great anticipation. Just a very talented, dynamic player, all-around player.
"He was just better. He played too good for me for most part of the match. He kept his nerves and deserved to win."
The 35-year-old Djokovic didn't appear at his best physically early on and called for a trainer after holding for a 2-1 lead in the second set.
It wasn't immediately clear what the issue was but Djokovic recently returned after three weeks off because of a lingering issue with his surgically repaired right elbow. He's preparing for the French Open, which starts in 11 days.
"I know I can always play better," Djokovic said. "I always like my chances in grand slams against anybody on any surface, best-of-five. Let's see how it goes."
Rune, though, is boosting his credentials as a grand slam contender after a solid season on clay that included a runner-up finish in the Monte Carlo Masters, a title in Munich, and now a semi-final spot in Rome.
"Every match is a huge challenge for me when I play against Novak. He's obviously one of the greatest that ever played the game," Rune said.
"I'm a huge fighter on the court and I leave everything when I play my matches."
The day after he outlasted Australian Alexei Popyrin, Rune emerged victorious even though he also had to call for a trainer late in the second set to have his right leg treated, shortly before the match was suspended because of rain with the Dane serving to stay in the second set at 4-5, 0-30.
Rune, known for his fiery behaviour, also got into a heated exchange with the chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani about a disputed call during the second set.
When Lahyani refused to change the call despite Rune saying that the mark on the clay showed that Djokovic's shot was out, he lost his cool.
"Do you get punished when you make mistakes? You don't. So please respect the player," Rune said to the umpire. "It's an absolute joke."
As Rune's coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, motioned from the stands for his player to calm down, the youngster then said to nobody in particular: "It's always the umpire who makes me look like the bad guy."
After a suspension of more than an hour because of the rain, Djokovic then won two straight points to break Rune's serve and take the second set.
But Rune broke Djokovic's serve twice early in the third to knock out the six-time Italian Open champ. With the Serb out of the draw, an 18-year streak of either him or Nadal playing in the Rome final is over.
Djokovic will now also lose the No.1 ranking to Carlos Alcaraz, another 20-year-old player, next week — even though the Spaniard was beaten by 135th-ranked Hungarian qualifier Fabian Marozsan in the third round on Monday.
Rune will play Casper Ruud in the semi-finals after the Norwegian fourth seed beat Francisco Cerundolo 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.