Since the start of the Masters 1000 series in 1990, only nine players have reached ten finals at the premium ATP events. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have all collected 50 or more, dominating the rest of the field and taking almost every notable record.
Reaching ten finals at this level is not an easy task, the one that becomes even tougher when we want to find those exceptional players with ten title matches at a single Masters 1000 event. Rafael Nadal stood alone on that list for years, delivering his best tennis in Monte Carlo and Rome to fight for the trophy 12 and 11 times.
Novak Djokovic has always been Nadal's closest rival at Foro Italico, producing rock-solid tennis in the Italian capital and advancing to his tenth final on Sunday, becoming the second player with that many title matches at a single Masters 1000 event.
Competing for the first time since the US Open default, Novak defeated Salvatore Caruso in the second round in Rome, prevailing over Filip Krajinovic and Dominik Koepfer to advance into the semis. Losing in the last four in Rome only once, Novak passed another obstacle to find himself in the title match and achieve an excellent record, beating Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 11 minutes.
Like the previous two encounters, Djokovic had to give his best to cross the finish line first, fending off two break points at 4-5 in the opener and moving over the top with a single break in set number two. Novak fended off seven out of eight break chances offered to the youngster to limit the initial shot's damage, producing three breaks to overpower the first Norwegian in the Masters 1000 semi-final.
Novak landed 37 winners and 19 unforced errors, with Casper adding 26 winners and 19 mistakes, giving his best to topple a great rival but missing a chance in that decisive tenth game of the first set. The opener lasted for 70 minutes and was a quality set of tennis, with two opponents fighting neck and neck.
Novak is the second player with ten finals at a single Masters 1000 event.
Novak had 20 winners and 15 unforced errors, delivering two breaks in the crucial moments and overpowering Ruud in the shortest and most extended exchanges to steal it 7-5.
Djokovic held after deuce in the first game before Ruud brought the second game home at love with a forehand winner, a good sign in his career's most important match. Dominating with his forehand, the Rafa Nadal Academy student grabbed a break in the third game following Novak's backhand error, holding at 30 to forge a 3-1 gap.
Novak held at love with a service winner to reduce the deficit, creating two break chances in game six that Casper denied and brought it home after 11 minutes. They both held at love in games seven and eight to remain close to each other, with Casper serving for the set at 5-4.
The youngster couldn't find that one extra shot that would have closed the set for him, dropping four straight points to offer Novak a break. At 5-5, Djokovic had to work hard to stay on the positive side, defending three break chances for another crucial hold, transferring pressure to Casper's side of the net.
Serving to remain in the set, Ruud got broken at 30 following a forehand error, handing the set to Djokovic, who was the favorite to grab a win in straight sets. Carried by this momentum, Novak held at love at the beginning of the second set, followed by two marathon games on both sides that offered some ten deuces and five break opportunities.
The servers passed all the challenges before Casper leveled the score at 2-2 after a hold at love. Losing focus for a moment, the Norwegian got broken at love in game six to push Djokovic 4-2 in front, with the Serb firing a service winner to confirm the advantage and move closer to the finish line.
Returning in game eight, Novak wasted two match points, having to serve out for the victory. After five deuces in that eighth game, Ruud held with a service winner, reducing the deficit to 3-5 and hoping for a break to keep him alive.
However, that didn't happen, as Novak produced a hold at love with a service winner to wrap up the triumph and advance into the tenth Rome final.