Novak Djokovic had to work hard against a qualifier Dominik Koepfer in Rome, beating him 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and ten minutes for the 69th Masters 1000 semi-final. Novak got broken four times from as many chances offered to the German and earned six breaks from 21 opportunities to move over the top despite hitting 24 winners and 38 unforced errors.
It was one-way traffic for Djokovic in the opening four games before he started to struggle, turning the opener into a sluggish set of tennis that saw 11 winners and almost 30 errors combined. Djokovic got broken twice in a row but delivered three breaks to claim it 6-3.
World no. 1 held at love with a service winner in the first game, with Dominik firing winners to fend off three break points in game two before Novak converted the fourth for an early advantage. The four-time Rome champion forced another error from Koepfer in the third game to confirm the lead after 12 minutes.
A left-hander netted an easy forehand in the fourth game to experience another break and send the Serb further in front. Out of a sudden, Novak started spraying errors in the fifth game, landing a backhand beyond the baseline to suffer a break.
Koepfer saved a break chance in game six with a service winner and brought the game home when Novak netted a forehand to reduce the deficit to 4-2. With no rhythm in his strokes, Djokovic got broken at love in game seven following a loose backhand, having no more room for errors and securing another break that sent him 5-3 up.
From 30-0 down in the ninth game, Novak claimed four straight points to clinch the set with a forehand winner after 38 minutes.
Novak Djokovic toppled Dominik Koepfer in three sets in Rome.
Dominik netted a backhand to give serve at love at the beginning of the second set, firing two service winners to save two break chances in game three that could have pushed him further behind.
Novak closed the fourth game with a forehand winner, opening a 3-1 lead and looking good to seal the deal a couple of games later. Instead of that, the German remained within one break deficit after holding in game five and broke Novak at love to level the score at 3-3.
The Serb earned code violation after breaking his racquet and fell 4-3 behind when Koepfer held in game seven with a smash winner at the net. After some problems, Djokovic leveled the score at 4-4 and looked good to grab a break in the next one.
Battling for every point, Dominik repelled three break opportunities in the ninth game and held with a service winner to prolong the encounter against the rival who was far from his best. Serving at 4-5, Novak sent a forehand beyond the baseline to suffer a break and hand the set to a qualifier.
The German had the upper hand in the deciding moments in those minutes, surviving four break chances at the beginning of the final set to avoid an early setback. Djokovic held at love in the second game and grabbed a break a few minutes later when Dominik hit a double fault, confirming it with a hold at 15 that moved him 3-1 up.
A perfect drop shot secured the sixth game for the Serb after deuce, with Koepfer staying within one break deficit after a service winner a few minutes later. Novak landed a forehand down the line winner in game nine to remain in front, forcing Dominik to serve for staying in the match.
Koepfer saved a match point with a serve & volley before Novak converted the second chance with a volley winner at the net to seal the deal and advance into the semis.