Novak Djokovic falls to surprise defeat against Holger Hune at Rome Masters

Top seed beaten 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in quarter-finals and admits Dane 'deserved to win'

Novak Djokovic, left, sahakes hands with Holger Rune after the Dane's triumph in the Rome Masters quarter-finals on May 17, 2023. AFP
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Top seed Novak Djokovic was knocked out of the Rome Masters by Holger Hune on Wednesday as the defending champion lost in three sets at Foro Italico.

Rune, who also defeated Djokovic in November's Paris Masters final, secured his semi-final spot thanks to a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win over the Serbian. It will be the first time since 2004 that neither Djokovic nor the injured Rafa Nadal will be in the Rome final.

The Dane is boosting his credentials as a Grand Slam contender after a solid season on clay that included a runner-up finish in the Monte Carlo Masters, a title in Munich, and now a semi-final spot on his Rome debut.

"It's really a big win for me,” said Rune, who will now face either Casper Ruud or Francisco Cerundolo.

“Obviously I did it last year in Paris as well, but every match is a huge challenge for me when I play against Novak. He's one of the greatest that's ever played the game.

"I knew I had to be at my best and I said it yesterday, and I was today. I'm super proud of myself and I enjoyed every moment out there."

Djokovic made no excuses for his surprise defeat against seventh seed Rune, admitting after the match that the best man won.

“This is probably the coldest and wettest tournament I’ve ever played here in Rome,” he said. "In these kind of conditions, it’s very difficult to get the ball past him. He’s very, very fast, very quick. Great anticipation. Just a very talented, dynamic player, all-around player.

“He was just better. He played too good for me for most part of the match. He kept his nerve and deserved to win.”

The 35-year-old didn’t appear at his best physically early on and called for a trainer after holding for a 2-1 lead in the second set. It was not immediately clear what the issue was but it appeared that Djokovic swallowed a pill that the trainer gave him.

Djokovic will relinquish his world top-ranking to Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz before the French Open, where the Serbian will look to claim a men's record 23rd Grand Slam title having gone level with Nadal by winning the Australian Open.

The six-time Rome champion recently returned after three weeks off because of a lingering issue with his right elbow and with the tournament at Roland Garros starting in 11 days.

“I know I can always play better,” Djokovic said. “I always like my chances in Grand Slams against anybody on any surface, best-of-five. Let’s see how it goes.”

Updated: May 17, 2023, 3:57 PM