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Novak Djokovic dominates in Italian Open win — just in time for French Open

Novak Djokovic holds the winner's trophy after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas. (Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
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Moments after winning the Italian Open on Sunday afternoon in Rome, Novak Djokovic closed his eyes, tilted his head toward the sky, smiled and raised his racket with his right arm as he received a standing ovation.

The Serbian tennis star soaked in his first tournament title since November after missing a chunk of the season because he was unvaccinated against the coronavirus. In securing his sixth Italian Open title, Djokovic won every set in five matches at Foro Italico, including beating Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-0, 7-6 (7-5), in the championship match.

Djokovic solidified his recent world No. 1 ranking. The 34-year-old proved he’s in top form a week before the French Open, where he could claim his 21st Grand Slam title.

“I’ve been building my form the last couple of weeks, and like the previous years, I knew that my best shape on the clay is usually coming around Rome time,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview with ATP. “So it couldn’t be a better time obviously coming into Roland-Garros with a title in this wonderful tournament.”

In January, Djokovic left Australia after losing his legal challenge to compete in the Australian Open while unvaccinated. In his ensuing tournament the next month at the Dubai Tennis Championships, Djokovic fell to Jiri Vesely and lost his No. 1 world ranking for the first time in more than two years — to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev. Djokovic reached the Serbia Open championship in April and lost in the Madrid Open semifinals this month.

On Saturday in the Italian Open semifinals, Djokovic defeated Norway’s Casper Ruud, 6-4, 6-3, to claim his 1,000th Tour win. Afterward, tournament organizers delivered Djokovic a white cake that read “1000” in red frosting. Djokovic is the fifth man to reach 1,000 wins, joining Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.

“Thanks to the tournament and the crowd for celebrating the milestone with me,” Djokovic said Saturday in an interview with ATP. “Obviously, I was seeing Roger and Rafa celebrating those milestones in the last couple of years, and I was looking forward to getting to that 1,000 myself.”

In Sunday’s championship match — a rematch of his victory last year — Djokovic won the opening set in a half-hour and came behind from a 5-3 deficit in the second set against Tsitsipas, ranked No. 5 in the world. Djokovic, who extended his record Masters 1000 title total to 38, last won a championship at the Paris Masters.

During Sunday’s trophy ceremony, Djokovic dedicated his win to his 7-year-old son, Stefan, whom Djokovic announced was playing his first tennis match that day.

Djokovic will face stiff competition next week when he attempts to defend his French Open crown. Medvedev and third-ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany will participate, as well as Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old ranked No. 6 in the world who won the Miami, Barcelona and Madrid opens this year. Forty-four of the world’s top 45 players are slated to compete as of now — including Nadal, who has secured a record 13 French Open titles but has recently suffered from a left foot injury. The French Open begins May 22.

“This year, it was a particular situation. With everything that happened in Australia, it took some time,” Djokovic told reporters Sunday. “I found my best shape here. I’m going to Paris with a lot of confidence.”

While Russians are allowed to compete in the French Open, tournament chief Amelie Mauresmo said last week that sanctions will be imposed if players make statements in support of President Vladimir Putin. Wimbledon announced last month that it will ban Russian and Belarusian players from its tournament this summer.

“It’s very complicated,” Mauresmo told France Inter. “Probably there is no fair decision to take.”