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Novak Djokovic sweeps every set en route to Italian Open title

Novak Djokovic raised his first trophy of the year at the Italian Open on Sunday and showed that he is back in top form exactly a week before the French Open starts.

After missing a large portion of the season because he wasn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus, the top-ranked Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-0, 7-6 (5) for his sixth Rome title.

“I go there with the highest ambitions,” Djokovic said of the French Open. “I really like my chances. … 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 status of Rafael Nadal, who has won 13 of his record 21 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros, remains uncertain after the Spaniard’s Italian Open ended earlier than expected when his chronically injured left foot started bothering him again.

“Right now, Carlos Alcaraz or Novak Djokovic,” Tsitsipas said when asked to pick the French Open favorite, not even mentioning Nadal’s name.

Djokovic lost a deciding-set tiebreaker to Alcaraz in the Madrid Open semifinals last weekend.

“That was a close, close match,” Djokovic said. “He deserved to win, but it was really one point that decided the winner. I was satisfied with the level that I was playing.”

Djokovic’s experience might give him the edge on the favorites list for Paris, especially since Alcaraz has never been past the quarterfinals of a major.

The French Open also offers a particular challenge, Tsitsipas said.

“Every Grand Slam is a marathon Grand Slam, but specifically Roland Garros. It really takes the most out of you spiritually and physically when you’re out on the court,” Tsitsipas said. “Clay-court [tennis] has this ability to really squeeze every single part of you.”

Djokovic didn’t drop a set this week, having won his 1,000th career match over Casper Ruud in the semifinals. It was his 12th final at the Foro Italico.

“This court has always been very, very special,” Djokovic said. “It’s given me joy when I really needed positive sensations. Whenever my form was a bit down, I’ve found energy in this city.”

Djokovic needed only a half-hour to win the opening set, during which Tsitsipas got so frustrated at one point that he banged his racket against his bag during a changeover and mangled the frame.

After falling behind early in the second set, Djokovic stepped up his game when Tsitsipas served for the set at 5-3.

First, Djokovic ripped a forehand crosscourt return winner that landed on the line. On the next point, he pushed Tsitsipas from corner to corner before the fifth-ranked Greek player resorted to a drop shot attempt that landed in the net. Djokovic celebrated with a series of fist pumps as the crowd chanted his nickname, “No-le, No-le.”

When a backhand from Tsitsipas sailed wide on the first match point, Djokovic simply raised his arms and smiled.

During the trophy ceremony, Djokovic made a special dedication: “Today at 4 [p.m.] when we started this match, my son Stefan, who is 7 years old, was playing his first tennis match. I hope he won. This is for him.”

Djokovic, who was deported due to his unvaccinated status ahead of the Australian Open, hadn’t won a tournament since the Paris Masters in November. The 20-time Grand Slam champion reached the final of his home Serbia Open last month.

“This year it was a particular situation. With everything that happened in Australia, it took some time,” Djokovic said. “I found my best shape here. I’m going to Paris with a lot of confidence.” Djokovic produced 24 winners to Tsitsipas’ eight and had only 14 unforced errors.

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