ROME-Novak Djokovic advanced to his 11th Internazionali BNL d’Italia semi-final on Saturday, beating Dominik Koepfer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

The four-time champion won 68 per cent of second-serve return points (27/40) and created 21 break points en route to recording his 29th victory in 30 matches this year. Djokovic, who has reached the last eight in Rome each year since 2007, improves to 11-3 in Rome quarter-finals. The Serbian has now won seven straight quarter-final matches at the ATP Masters 1000 event, dating back to his loss to Tomas Berdych at this stage in 2013.

Djokovic is now two wins away from lifting a record-breaking 36th Masters 1000 crown. The 33-year-old tied Rafael Nadal’s tally of 35 titles at the level by completing his second Career Golden Masters at the Western & Southern Open last month.

Koepfer was making his main draw debut at a Masters 1000 event this week. The German saved one match point to earn his first ATP Tour victory on clay against Alex de Minaur and clinched his first Top 10 victory against Gael Monfils in the second round. Koepfer is the first qualifier to reach the quarter-finals at this event since Juan Monaco and Mischa Zverev in 2009. 

Djokovic will be face Casper Ruud for a spot in the championship match. The Norwegian overcame fourth seed Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in just under three hours to reach his first Masters 1000 semi-final. Djokovic started quickly on Centrale, attacking Koepfer’s backhand and dictating rallies with his forehand to earn a 4-0 lead. But Koepfer responded emphatically, recovering both breaks, as the World No. 1’s level fluctuated. Djokovic quickly settled back into his rhythm on his forehand to clinch the first set and take an early lead in the second set.

Koepfer found a way back into the second set, firing a crosscourt backhand passing shot and showcasing incredible court coverage skills to level the score at 3-3. The German forced a decider with his fourth service break at 5-4, as Djokovic’s level dropped on his forehand side. 

After failing to convert three consecutive break points in the opening game of the decider, Djokovic was gifted a love service break at 1-1. The 35-time Masters 1000 titlist served with confidence throughout the third set and regained consistency on his forehand towards the end of the match. Djokovic converted his second match point with a well-placed backhand drop volley.

Meanwhile, top seed Simona Halep took the first semi-final berth at the Italian Open on Saturday when Kazakh rival Yulia Putintseva retired during their match on Saturday. The world number two was leading 6-2, 2-0 in the quarter-final clash on clay in Rome when Putintseva signalled that she was retiring after 45 minutes of play with a lower back injury.

Putintseva, ranked 30, had reached the quarter-finals of the recent hard court US Open, a tournament which Halep skipped because of coronavirus concerns. Halep next meets either Belarussian Victoria Arazenka or Spaniard Garbine Muguruza for a place in the final of the clay-court tournament. It is the fifth time that former French Open champion Halep has reached the last four in Rome. 

The Wimbledon champion was runner-up to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018 finals. Matches from Sunday’s semi-finals will be played in front of 1,000 spectators with the action up to now in front of empty stands at the Foro Italico.