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Djokovic gets obscenity warning in SF win at Italian Open

Novak Djokovic knows it isn’t model behavior when he loses his cool on the tennis court.

Yet he just can’t help himself.

Exactly two weeks after he was defaulted from the U.S. Open, and a day after he was warned by the chair umpire for breaking his racket, Djokovic received an obscenity warning midway through a 7-5, 6-3 win over Casper Ruud in the Italian Open semifinals Sunday.

Romania's Simona Halep returns the ball to Spain's Garbine Muguruza during their semifinal at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (Alfredo FalconeLaPresse via AP)

As opposed to his previous two outbursts, this time there were fans in the stands who could clearly hear how Djokovic dealt with his frustration.

What’s more is that, with 1,000 spectators allowed in to the Foro Italico for the first time this week, a large proportion of those in attendance were children.

“I don’t want to do it, but when it comes, it happens,” Djokovic said Saturday. “That’s how I, I guess, release sometimes my anger. And it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me. I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

Few spectators were allowed in due to the rules to avoid the spread of COVID-19 during the semifinal match between Spain's Garbine Muguruza and Romania's Simona Halep at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (Alfredo FalconeLaPresse via AP)

Djokovic’s behavior once again overshadowed his performance, in a match where he had to save two set points when Ruud served for the first set at 5-4 — one of them with a delicate backhand drop-shot winner.

The top-ranked Djokovic also served five aces in a single game to take a 6-5 lead in the first.

Ruud, 21, the first Norwegian player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal and a product of Rafael Nadal's academy, put up plenty of resistance and also produced the shot of the day: a leaping over-the-shoulder hook shot for a winner as he raced back to chase down a lob — earning a thumbs-up from Djokovic.

A spectator wears a face mask to protect against COVID-19 contagion during the semifinal match between Spain's Garbine Muguruza and Romania's Simona Halep, at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (Alfredo FalconeLaPresse via AP)

The obscenity warning came in the third game of the second set, by which time he had a running dialogue with the chair umpire over a series of contested calls.

Still, Djokovic improved to 30-1 this year. His only loss came when he was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta.

In Djokovic’s 10th Rome final — he has won four — he’’ll face either eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman or 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov.

Spain's Garbine Muguruza returns the ball to Romania's Simona Halep during their semifinal at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (Alfredo FalconeLaPresse via AP)

Schwartzman beat nine-time Rome champion Nadal late Friday.

In the women's tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached her third Rome final by beating Garbiñe Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to improve her record in tennis’ restart to 9-0.

Muguruza struggled with her serve and double faulted on the final two points of the 2 hour, 16-minute match.

Romania's Simona Halep returns the ball to Spain's Garbine Muguruza during their semifinal at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. Due to restrictions against COVID-19, only a limited number of spectators were allowed in. (Alfredo FalconeLaPresse via AP)

Halep, who lost to Elina Svitolina in the 2017 and 2018 finals, will face either Karolína Plíšková or Markéta Vondroušová in Monday's championship match.

The second-ranked Halep is 13-0 overall stretching back to February, when she won a title in Dubai. After the tour’s five-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Romanian returned by raising another trophy in Prague last month. She then skipped the U.S. Open due to travel and health concerns.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf