Rome: World No 7 Holger Rune beat a frustrated Novak Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 on Wednesday, sending the top seed spinning out in a dramatic rain-interrupted quarter-final at the Italian Open.
Six-time champion Djokovic was carrying an unspecified injury into the match as he lost for a second time to the rising 20-year-old Dane.
Rune defeated the Serb to win the Masters 1000 at Paris Bercy last November.
Marred by spats
The latest contest between the pair was marred by spats with the chair umpire by both players — Djokovic on a time warning and Rune over a second-set line call.
Play was halted for just over an hour by rain.
Shortly after the match began, Djokovic requested extra towels to pad his lower back on the bench during most changeovers.
He has also suffered with a right elbow problem over the past weeks, which caused him to miss the Madrid event and put his pre-Roland Garros preparation behind schedule.
He was treated by the trainer and tournament doctor after the third game of the second set and given a painkiller before playing on.
Djokovic was playing his 17th consecutive Rome quarter-final, now standing 13-4. Tomas Berdych was the last payer to beat him in the last eight in Rome back in 2013.
His Rome record dropped to 67-11 as his bid for a seventh title ended after two hours, 18 minutes with 35 unforced errors in only his fourth loss of the season.
Rune will face either world No 4 Casper Ruud or the Argentine Francisco Cerundolo in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, the Serbian ace has hit out at Cameron Norrie after the Brit hit a game-winning smash that struck the Serbian in the calf during their last-16 match on Tuesday.
It started with Norrie’s relentless ‘come on’ and fist-pumps after every successful point, which clearly bothered Djokovic.
That irritation escalated early in the second set when Norrie, who was down a set and a break, hit the Serb in the leg with an overhead smash, after Djokovic had turned his back and essentially conceded a point. The Serb appeared displeased with the smash and gave Norrie a long glare in response as the Brit raised his hand in apology.
Speaking about the incident during the post-match press conference, Djokovic accused Norrie of using tactics that were not in accordance with “fair play.”
“I did watch the replay when he hit me. Maybe you could say he didn’t hit me deliberately. I don’t know if he saw me. Peripherally you can always see where the player is positioned on the court. The ball was super slow and super close to the net. I just turned around because the point was over for me,” the 35-year-old was quoted as saying by Eurosport.
Meeting fire with fire
There were also other instances of bad sportsmanship from Norrie as he asked for the trainer, and took a medical timeout, just as Djokovic was about to serve for the match.
“From the very beginning, I don’t know, he was doing all the things that were allowed. He’s allowed to take a medical timeout. He’s allowed to hit a player. He’s allowed to say ‘c’mon’ in the face more or less every single point from basically the first game.
“Those are the things that we players know in the locker room. It’s not fair play, it’s not how we treat each other. But, again, it’s allowed, so...”
Djokovic further said that he was not happy with the way the Brit conducted himself on the court.
“He brought the fire, and I responded to that. I’m not going to allow someone behaving like this just bending my head. I’m going to respond to that. That’s all it is. What happens on the court, we leave it on the court, and we move on,” he added.