World no. 1 Novak Djokovic is through to his 13th Rome Masters semi-final and the 73rd at the Masters 1000 level. Novak had to work hard on Friday night at Foro Italico and prevailed over Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-5, 7-6 in two hours and nine minutes.
It was their first meeting on the Tour, and Felix gave his best to challenge a great rival. The young Canadian erased the deficit in both sets, but it was not enough to win at least one and prolong the action. Novak won 14 points more, defending three out of five break points and stealing Felix's serve five times from eight opportunities to emerge at the top.
Auger-Aliassime had more service winners and the advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes. Djokovic erased that and forged the lead in the more advanced exchanges to topple the young rival and set the clash against Casper Ruud.
Both players made a reliable start in their games, and there were no chances for the returners in the opening four games.
Novak Djokovic took down Felix Auger-Aliassime in the Rome quarter-final.
Felix forced Novak's error right after return in the fifth game to create the first break chance.
Djokovic fired a forehand down the line that forced the rival's error to avoid the setback. World no. 1 brought the game home with a service winner for a 3-2 advantage. They both held at love in games six and seven to remain neck and neck.
The Canadian sent a forehand long in the eighth game to suffer a break and push the Serb 5-3 in front. From 30-15, Novak lost three straight points in game nine and got broken after a loose backhand to keep the rival in contention.
Servers held at love in games ten and 11, and Felix served for staying in the set at 5-6. Djokovic remained calm and painted a forehand crosscourt winner in game 12 to wrap up the opener after 52 minutes and gain a massive boost.
Like in the first set, there was nothing to separate them in the second set's first four games, as they lock the result at 2-2. Novak held after deuce in game five for 3-2. He seized the fourth break chance in the next one with a perfect lob winner to forge the advantage and move closer to the finish line.
Djokovic fended off two break points in game seven and held with a service winner for 5-2 and another step towards the win. Felix squandered a 40-15 lead in the eighth game and faced a match point. Auger-Aliassime erased it with a service winner and produced a crucial hold to extend his chances.
Novak served for the victory in game nine, but it was not to be for him. He sprayed a backhand mistake to suffer a break and bring the rival back to 4-5. Felix used the opportunity with both hands to deliver two comfortable holds and reach a tie break.
Djokovic started all over and placed a running backhand crosscourt winner to open a 5-1 gap. The Serb forced the opponent's error in the seventh point to create match points. Djokovic used the first with his trademark backhand down the line to prevail and set the semi-final clash against Casper Ruud.