Novak Djokovic believes Rafael Nadal is still the favourite to win the French Open despite his quarter-final exit at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Djokovic continued his stellar year by claiming the title in Rome thanks to a 7-5 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman in the final on Monday.

The Serbian won his 36th ATP 1000 title, moving him ahead of Nadal into the outright lead, in the ideal preparation for the French Open starting on Sunday.

While Nadal was beaten by Schwartzman in the last eight in Rome, Djokovic said the 12-time French Open champion still deserved favouritism at Roland Garros.

"It's Nadal. Even though he lost this week I still think, and a lot of people will agree, he is the number one favourite," Djokovic told a news conference.

"The record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can't put anyone in front of him. But Diego showed Nadal is beatable on clay.

"The conditions that they played on, heavy clay, not much bounce, humid, night session, we are going to have that as well in Paris. Night session, under the lights, a little bit less bounce, I am pretty sure he does not prefer that to high bounce. I know he likes the high bounce, he likes hot and fast and warm conditions where he can use his spin a lot.

"Let's see. It's going to be interesting. Even though he's the number one favourite there are players who can win against him there.

"It's obviously best of five. You've got to be really fit to be able to achieve that."

A 17-time grand slam champion, Djokovic won the French Open in 2016, while he has lost three finals at the tournament, including two to Nadal.

But with the event rescheduled from a May start to September, Djokovic hopes the cooler weather will suit him in Paris.

"I cannot hope for Rafa not being in the final. I can hope for myself being in the finals and fighting for the trophy," he said.

"That's probably the player who has the highest chance of being in a final in the French Open and any tournament for that matter. If there is one tournament, that is Roland Garros and that's Rafa that you would bet on. But conditions will be different.

"I think I experienced something that might be the case in terms of conditions in Paris. Little bit of rain, wet court, clay, not much of a bounce, a bit cold. That's what I think people have been talking about from the Paris weather standpoint. I'm fine with those conditions."

Novak Djokovic secured a record-breaking triumph at the Internazionali d'Italia as he sealed a perfect response to his US Open woe.

The world number one defeated Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 in Monday's final, the same scoreline he had recorded to defeat Casper Ruud in the last four to reach a 10th final at the tournament.

Djokovic's 36th ATP Masters 1000 title – which moved him ahead of Rafael Nadal into the outright lead - and 81st overall on the ATP Tour was an ideal response after he was disqualified from the US Open.

That infamous default came after he struck the ball at a line judge during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta in New York this month.

After overcoming a nervous start against Schwartzman, victory gave Djokovic a fifth title in Rome, though it was his first since 2015 – having lost three finals and suffered a semi-final exit in the previous four years.

He will now bid to end the French Open dominance of Nadal, who stunningly went out to Schwartzman in the quarter-finals in Italy, when the upcoming last grand slam of the year begins in Paris.

Djokovic won the first set despite losing the first three games, recording 18 unforced errors and seeing a set point go begging at 5-4 when his Argentine opponent unleashed a superb cross-court forehand.

He had three more opportunities in Schwartzman's next service game, though, taking the last of those to move ahead.

A comeback looked to be on the cards when Djokovic sent a forehand wide to give Schwartzman a break in the first game of the second set.

But the Serbian, who converted five of his nine break points on the day, struck straight back and decisively moved 5-3 ahead later in the set with a fine backhand down the line.

After saving two match points, Schwartzman sent a shot wide on the next as Djokovic – who may have expected a different outcome when he fell a double break down to start the match – looked relieved as he raised his arms and congratulated his opponent on a superb tournament.

World number two Simona Halep extended her winning streak to 13 matches as she reached the final to delight the fans in attendance at the Internazionali d'Italia. 

Spectators were allowed at a WTA Tour event for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic suspended competitions, the Rome crowd witnessing Halep defeat Garbine Muguruza 6-3 4-6 6-4 in two hours and 14 minutes. 

Muguruza was the last woman to beat Halep, in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, but she was unable to produce a repeat in Italy, where the Romanian will be hoping to add to the recent titles she won in Abu Dhabi and Prague either side of the break. 

Halep, a two-time runner-up at this tournament, was 5-1 up in the third set but was pegged back to 5-4, only for Muguruza to produce back-to-back double faults that handed her opponent the victory.

"The victory is really important against Muguruza, always," Halep said afterwards.

"She's a very, very difficult player and a good player. It's always a good vibe and feeling when I win against her.

"I feel confident now that I was able to win this match."

Next up for Halep is Karolina Pliskova after the defending champion overcame Marketa Vondrousova 6-2 6-4.

Pliskova raced into a one-set lead against her fellow Czech, who was the runner-up at Roland Garros last year, but dropped her serve at the start of the second.

Vondrousova was unable to consolidate and paid the price for failing to stay in the rallies with the former world number one in the closing stages of a match that lasted one hour and 22 minutes. 

Novak Djokovic overcame a first-set scare to defeat Casper Ruud 7-5 6-3 and reach a 10th final at the Internazionali d'Italia.

The world number one remains on course for a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 title but was forced to save two set points in the opener against Norway's Ruud.

Djokovic will contest Monday's final against Denis Shapovalov or Diego Schwartzman, who stunned Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals to end the clay court maestro's similar designs on title 36 in the highest tier of ATP Tour events.

Ruud has impressed on clay this season, boasting a tour-leading 12 wins on the red stuff.

The 21-year-old was targeting a third final in four events on the surface and pocketed an early break before staying cool under pressure on the forehand side to repel two break-back points at 3-2.

It meant Ruud served for the set at 5-4 but he was unable to convert as Djokovic got back on terms with a fabulous drop shot winner.

The 17-time grand slam champion shut the door on Ruud three times during a 12-minute 11th game and the pressure told on his opponent, with a misfired forehand conceding the set.

Djokovic then put his foot down with some authoritative ground strokes to break for 4-2 in the second.

He continued to batter Ruud to the forehand corner and completed the victory in two hours and 11 minutes.

An imperious 30-1 record in 2020 must now be set alongside Djokovic's less-than-impressive recent efforts in the Rome showpiece.

Despite being a four-time winner in the Italian capital, defeats to Andy Murray, Alexander Zverev and Nadal mean he has finished as runner-up in three of the past four years.

Rafael Nadal suffered a stunning defeat to Diego Schwartzman in the Internazionali d'Italia quarter-finals - a major blow to French Open preparations for tennis' king of clay. 

A 6-2 7-5 loss to Schwartzman in Rome ended Nadal's 100 per cent record in their rivalry, after nine previous wins for the Spaniard. 

In their fifth clash on clay, and first on the surface since Nadal won in four sets in the 2018 Roland Garros quarter-finals, Schwartzman wobbled with victory in sight. 

At 5-4 ahead in the second set he was broken to love by 12-time French Open winner Nadal. 

But the eighth seed magnificently broke back immediately and then held his nerve to complete a memorable success, finishing with a volley at the net out of the reach of the stranded Nadal.

The result ends the prospect of a final between Nadal and top seed Djokovic on Monday, with Schwartzman moving on to tackle Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the last four of the tournament. 

"Today I played my best tennis. [It was] Very similar to Roland Garros against Rafa three years ago and I'm very happy," Schwartzman said in his post-match interview on court.

"I was not thinking to beat him really because I was not playing good lately. But today I did my best and I'm very happy."

There were clear mitigating circumstances behind Nadal's unusually early exit, given this is his first tournament since February. 

The 34-year-old elected to miss the resumption of tennis in the United States last month, skipping the US Open over concerns about long-haul international travel in the coronavirus period.

Shapovalov was a 6-2 3-6 6-2 winner against Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov earlier on Saturday.

US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka lost a three-set thriller to Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali d'Italia to set up a meeting with top seed Simona Halep. 

Muguruza beat her fellow former world number one 3-6 6-3 6-4 after two hours and 19 minutes, having been one point away from falling 5-3 down in an entertaining decider at Foro Italico. 

The 2016 French Open winner managed to hold her serve on that occasion, then broke to love in the next game before going on to seal the match at the third attempt. 

"I think it was a tough match. I knew it was going to be a tough match. She's a good player, she's playing good, she's with a lot of confidence," said Muguruza. 

"I knew it was going to be a tough battle. I was ready for it. I stood behind her and was waiting for my opportunities. She was playing great at the beginning. She took the first set. I kept myself together and said, 'Okay, let's start another battle in the second set'."

Next up for Muguruza is two-time Rome finalist Halep, who saw Yulia Putintseva retire from their quarter-final meeting due to a lower back injury. 

After dropping her serve to fall 6-2 2-0 down to the world number two in 47 minutes, Putintseva, who played back-to-back three-set matches in the previous two rounds, pulled out of the match. 

Halep said of Muguruza: "Every time I played well against her, [I was] as much as possible aggressive. If I play my best game and if I feel great physically on court, I have a big chance to win the match. But every time is different, because she's playing so hard. 

"You don't really know what to expect. It's tough every time. So I don't plan for a specific match, because you never know on court."

Two-time Internazionali d'Italia champion Elina Svitolina was comprehensively beaten 6-3 6-0 by Marketa Vondrousova, who was the runner-up at last year's French Open. 

Standing between Vondrousova and her first final appearance since Roland Garros last year is reigning champion Karolina Pliskova. 

Second seed Pliskova overcame Elise Mertens 6-3 3-6 6-0 as she continued to impress after initially struggling when the WTA Tour returned in August.

Rafael Nadal remained on course for a 10th Internazionali d'Italia title as he comfortably beat Dusan Lajovic to join top seed Novak Djokovic in the last eight.

Competing in his first tournament since February, Nadal has looked in fine form in Rome and followed up Wednesday's impressive 6-1 6-1 dismantling of Pablo Carreno Busta with another encouraging display, beating Lajovic 6-1 6-3.

Lajovic did show some fight during the early exchanges, responding well to a break of serve by breaking back – and to love.

But a marathon game, which included six instances of deuce, followed and Nadal prevailed to go 3-1 up, before going on to lose just four more points when closing out the opening set.

Lajovic looked set to lose with a whimper when successive breaks gave Nadal a 4-0 lead in the second, and although the former responded by winning three games on the bounce, he had given himself too much to do and the Spaniard cruised to victory.

Nadal was a class above for much of the contest, cleverly pulling the Serbian this way and that, and the world number two does not think he could be doing much better.

"I played I think a very positive level of tennis. Of course it needs to keep improving," Nadal said. "I need to keep working on a couple of things that are not coming automatically, but I can't ask for more.

"[It was] another great evening for me against another good opponent. Can't complain at all. Much better [than] what I expected.

"The first set was 6-1, but a super-tough beginning of the match. A lot of good points. I'm very happy, it's an important victory for me after such a long time. To start the tournament with these two victories is great news."

Earlier in the day, world number one Djokovic felt he was "pushed to the limit" by fellow Serbian Filip Krajinovic as he won 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 to reach the last eight in the tournament for a 14th successive year.

It was the first time in more than a decade that the two friends had met on the court and Djokovic was made to work particularly hard, saving five of six break points over the course of the contest and fighting back from 4-1 down in the tie-break before ultimately outlasting his compatriot.

Djokovic's next opponent will be Dominik Koepfer, who dealt with Lorenzo Musetti in relatively comfortable fashion, winning 6-4 6-0.

Fourth seed Matteo Berrettini was pushed all the way by fellow Italian Stefano Travaglia to secure his spot in the next round, coming through a tense 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-1) to set up a meeting with Casper Ruud, who beat Marin Cilic 6-2 7-6 (8-6).

Eighth seed Diego Schwartzman was given a run for his money by Poland's Hubert Hurkacz, but the Argentinian came from behind to prevail 3-6 6-2 6-4.

He will be up next for Nadal, while the other quarter-final will be contested between Grigor Dimitrov and Denis Shapovalov, both of whom came through three-setters on Friday.

Novak Djokovic said he was "pushed to the limit" by fellow Serbian Filip Krajinovic before booking a quarter-final place at the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome.

The world number one advanced to the last eight for a 14th straight year at the tournament with a 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 victory over Krajinovic.

Djokovic had not faced Krajinovic in more than a decade and said it was difficult facing off against one of his closest friends.

"It was one of the longest sets of my career," he said of the first set which lasted an hour and 27 minutes. "It is never easy to play against one of your best friends of so many years.

"We have only played 10 years ago in Serbia and he has changed as a person and as a player. It is rare that we have not played against each other in this decade. We trained several times together and we have played the Davis Cup together; it was good to play against him.

"Janko Tipsarevic [Krajinovic's coach], a Serbian tennis legend, is doing a great job with him. He's in the top 30; I know he's in shape.

"I did not start the game as I wanted. I made many unforced errors, but we must congratulate him for pushing me to the limit."

Djokovic saved five of six break points to seal the win after two hours and seven minutes, setting up a quarter-final clash with Dominik Koepfer.

He attacked Krajinovic's forehand with gusto and delivered a string of drop shots throughout the first set, but that game plan did not come off when holding two set points at 5-4 on his opponent's serve.

Krajinovic then started the tie-break strongly, storming into a 4-1 lead, before Djokovic powered back and took advantage of an error from his opponent to seal the set at the fifth time of asking.

Djokovic wasted little time moving through the gears at the start of the second set, driving forehands down the line to break serve at 1-1. He maintained his advantage to reach 5-3 before breaking serve again to seal the win.

Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova cruised into the last eight at the Internazionali d'Italia on Friday, while Garbine Muguruza impressed again.

Tournament favourite Halep eventually looked comfortable in her 7-5 6-4 against Dayana Yastremska, but the Romanian had to fight back from a break down in the opening set as she was put on the back foot.

Halep slid 3-0 down in the opener, but she produced an admirable response when winning 12 of the following 13 points as she levelled up.

Another break from 5-5 allowed Halep to take charge, and from there she rarely looked in trouble, remaining in the ascendancy early in the second as she went 3-0 up, ultimately seeing out the win professionally despite Yastremska giving herself a chance with a break of her own.

"It was not easy against her because you don't really have the rhythm. She hits it very strong and it's tough to return her balls," Halep said, highlighting the need to get her head straight after the early wobble.

"After I lost the first three games, I just had to focus a little bit better and stop giving her the balls that she likes.

"I tried to change it up a little bit, make her move, [hit shots] a little bit high. I think during the match I found some solutions that were good to win.

"Big picture, I think it was a great match and gives me confidence that even in these conditions with a big hitter that I could win in two sets."

Awaiting Halep is a meeting with Yulia Putintseva, who fought back from a set down against fellow Russia-born Kazakh Elena Rybakina to edge an absorbing contest 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Second seed and defending champion Pliskova came through fairly comfortably against Anna Blinkova 6-4 6-3, with the Czech next going up against Elise Mertens, who saw off Danka Kovinic in similarly routine fashion with a 6-4 6-4 victory.

Another tantalising quarter-final will be contested between Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza. Spaniard Muguruza caught the eye as she beat seventh seed Johanna Konta 6-4 6-1, not dropping serve once against her British opponent.

Azarenka, who incredibly crushed Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin without dropping a game on Thursday, should be fresh for the quarter-final as her last-16 opponent Daria Kasatkina retired due to an ankle injury at 6-6 in the first set of their contest.

Dusan Lajovic set up a meeting with Rafael Nadal as a host of seeds and big names fell by the wayside at the Internazionali d'Italia on Thursday.

Neither Novak Djokovic nor Nadal was in action after scoring victories a day earlier, but there was no shortage of shocks.

Home hopeful and seventh seed Fabio Fognini was among those to lose, going down 7-5 7-6 (7-4) to Ugo Humbert.

The match saw a remarkable 11 breaks of serve, including the first six games of the opener before Fognini was broken to love, then losing an early advantage in the second-set tie-break.

He was joined in making an early exit by US Open quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev.

Beaten by brilliant Russian compatriot Daniil Medvedev in the last eight at Flushing Meadows, Rublev lost in three sets to Hubert Hurkacz on this occasion.

Fifth seed Gael Monfils succumbed 6-2 6-4 to qualifier Dominik Koepfer, while Milos Raonic fell to Lajovic as the Serbian secured the Nadal clash, landing a 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-2 success.

Kei Nishikori also tumbled out as he struggles to regain his rhythm on the ATP Tour.

The former world number four was appearing in just his second tournament of the year due to an elbow injury and then the coronavirus pandemic but could not get past Lorenzo Musetti.

Musetti, an 18-year-old qualifier, had already dumped out Stan Wawrinka and said after his 6-3 6-4 success: "I think I played really smart. It was different to Wawrinka.

"They are great champions and I am really happy right now."

He was the only Italian man to win, though, with Casper Ruud seeing off Lorenzo Sonego.

Denis Shapovalov had a straightforward victory and Diego Schwartzman also headed through in two sets.

Victoria Azarenka produced a memorable performance as she destroyed Sofia Kenin 6-0 6-0 at the Internazionali d'Italia on Thursday.

Azarenka, beaten in the US Open final less than a week ago, has transitioned to the clay courts in impressive fashion after beating Venus Williams and now, more impressively, Kenin.

The Australian Open champion had no answer to Azarenka's ruthlessness and near-perfection out on court in Rome, with the Belarusian claiming victory in just an hour and one minute.

Azarenka faced no break points in the entire match and made only one unforced error as she emphatically took the first set against a player who was her US Open doubles partner.

Kenin improved in the second set, forcing some long games – particularly the second, which was at deuce on five different occasions.

But Azarenka – who faces Russian Daria Kasatkina in the last 16 – simply had too much for the American and cruised to a sensational victory over the third seed,

"I think my consistency was the key to the scoreline," Azarenka told reporters. "I feel like I played really smart tennis today: I was able to use a lot of court; I was able to use a lot of different pace.

"So, I'm very happy with that. But the key was definitely being able to maintain the level that I started with."

She added, according to the WTA Tour website: "I was really more focused on what I can do today on the court, than on what she does well. So, I think that was the difference, I was able to insist on my level and insist on my pace."

Earlier, Garbine Muguruza managed to outlast American sensation Coco Gauff 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-3 in an absorbing contest.

Gauff, 16, appeared to be in control of the decider after an early break of serve.

But three double faults in the following game gifted Spaniard Muguruza an instant break in return, giving her the initiative to go on and seal victory.

Johanna Konta saw off Irina-Camelia Begu in fine fashion, the seventh-seeded Briton emerging 6-0 6-4, but Kiki Bertens and Petra Martic were not so impressive.

Bertens, seeded fifth, fell 6-4 6-4 to Polona Hercog, while eighth seed Martic succumbed to Yulia Putintseva in a gruelling three-hour contest, the latter eventually winning 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-4.

Marketa Vondrousova and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among the other victors on the day.

US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka saw off Venus Williams at the Internazionali d'Italia to book a meeting against Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Azarenka, who beat Serena Williams in the Flushing Meadows semi-finals, won 7-6 (9-7) 6-2 against the American's older sister to earn an enticing meeting with Australian Open champion Kenin in the last 32.

In a battle lasting just over two hours, Azarenka had to save a set point before claiming what proved to be a pivotal tie-break, the win avenging a defeat to Venus Williams in the first round of the Top Seed Open last month.

"[A] different surface was definitely challenging, but I feel like I adapted very well," Azarenka said after winning the last of the first-round matches in Rome.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy, I knew I wasn't going to play a perfect game, but it was all about trying to find the right intention of what to do. I think it worked out.

"I felt that this was a great match for me to figure it out, the first match on clay. Venus played a really good match, it was good to see her also adapting to clay, changing and trying different shots. 

"It is going to be an interesting match [against Kenin] because Sonya's been my doubles partner for the last two tournaments and we know each other quite well.

"She's a great player, she's obviously been playing exceptional this year. I feel like I'm playing all these players I've lost to before, so I'm kind of given an opportunity to redeem myself!"

Number one seed Simona Halep won 6-3 6-4 against Jasmine Paolini and will next face Dayana Yastremska, who emerged triumphant from a three-set battle against Amanda Anisimova.

Second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova beat fellow Czech Barbora Strycova 6-3 6-3, with Elina Svitolina and Elise Mertens also among those moving into the last 16.

There was no joy for sixth seed Belinda Bencic, though, as she was emphatically knocked out by qualifier Danka Kovinic, who earned a 6-3 6-1 win.

Rafael Nadal showed few signs of rust as he swept aside the challenge of Pablo Carreno Busta at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Playing his first match since winning the Mexican Open on February 29 before the sport was shut down, Nadal defeated his fellow Spaniard 6-1 6-1 in just 73 minutes.

It was an emphatic return to action against Carreno Busta, who took Alexander Zverev to five sets after a run to the US Open semi-finals last week.  

World number two Nadal will meet either Milos Raonic or Dusan Lajovic in the last 16.

Both players survived break-point opportunities in their opening service games, before Nadal reeled off five straight games to win the opener.

Carreno Busta stopped the rot with a hold to open the second set but was otherwise powerless to stop Nadal, who won every game from there.

Despite a first-serve percentage of just 49, Nadal only faced one break point in the contest as he beat Carreno Busta for the sixth straight meeting.

Nadal's win on Wednesday came after Novak Djokovic showed little sign of being affected by his US Open default in a 6-3 6-2 win over Salvatore Caruso.

The standout result of the day saw teenage home hope Jannik Sinner record a superb win over third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, triumphing 6-1 6-7 (9-11) 6-2 for just the second top-10 win of his career.

Matteo Berrettini was another Italian to win in Rome as he beat Federico Coria in straight sets, while Marin Cilic defeated sixth seed David Goffin 6-2 6-2.

Novak Djokovic showed little sign of being affected by his US Open default as he bounced back to defeat Salvatore Caruso at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Top seed Djokovic had not played since he was disqualified at Flushing Meadows earlier this month after hitting a line judge with the ball in the fourth round against Pablo Carreno Busta, his first defeat of the season.

But he returned to action in typically composed fashion in Italy, dispatching world number 87 Caruso 6-3 6-2.

Djokovic, who received a bye for round one, took just 84 minutes to claim the victory and will face Mario Cecchinato or Filip Krajinovic in the last 16.

The four-time Rome champion did not face a single break point throughout Wednesday's encounter, converting three of the eight Caruso offered up.

Having clinched the opening set at the second time of asking, Djokovic crucially nosed himself ahead in the second when he broke Caruso in the third game.

At one point during the 11-minute game, Djokovic complained about noise from the mainly empty stands. While fans are not allowed, coaches and tournament officials were in attendance.

"Which one?" the umpire replied, to which a frustrated Djokovic responded: "Which one? There's 10 people in the stands."

However, unlike in New York, Djokovic this time kept a lid on his temper and had the match all but won when he broke the Italian again to make it 5-2, the world number one then duly wrapping up victory with his first match point.  

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