Djokovic moves a step closer to 1st Cincinnati title

Novak Djokovic closed in on the one title that has eluded him, reaching the final of the Western & Southern Open with a three-set victory over Marin Cilic.

His 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win on Saturday left him a tantalizing one victory away from the only ATP Masters 1000 title he’s never claimed. Djokovic is trying to become the first to win all nine events since the series started in 1990. He’s reached the finals five times and lost each time.

“My sixth time, I’ll try to win the title,” he said. “Obviously this time I’m hoping I get my hands on the trophy.”

One big hurdle: a potential rematch with Roger Federer, who faced David Goffin in the other semifinal. Federer has won an unprecedented seven Cincinnati titles, beating Djokovic three times in championship matches.

Djokovic completed his long recovery from elbow surgery by winning Wimbledon for the fourth time last month. He then set out to get his hard-court game in form for the U.S. Open.

Frustrated by his ragged play early in his semifinal win over Milos Raonic a day earlier, Djokovic slammed his racket on the court, sending pieces of the frame into the air. The racket-busting became a turning point.

When he closed out the victory Saturday, he walked calmly to the net to congratulate Cilic and then raised both arms in triumph.

One more to go.

In the women’s bracket, top-ranked Simona Halep reached the final for a second straight year, beating Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 6-4. Like Djokovic, she’s never won the title, losing both of her chances, including the title match last year to Garbine Muguruza.

Halep will be trying for her second title in eight days. She won her third title of the season last Sunday in Montreal.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for me to play another final and win it,” she said.

She’ll face Kiki Bertens , who advanced to her first Western & Southern final by wearing down No. 8 Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Bertens is an unexpected finalist, winning only one match during three previous appearances in Cincinnati. Her only title this season was at Charleston.

Known as more of a clay-court player, Bertens has reached a hard-court final for the first time, spending more time getting accustomed to the different style of play.

“I think also I’m less stressed,” she said. “So before the match, I’m less nervous than I used to be. Before I was like, ‘Oh, I play on center court and a lot of people are watching.’ But now I’m just more relaxed.”

A week of rain delays and double-duty days wore on players, many of whom wound up playing twice in a day. Kvitova faded in her second straight three-set match, ending her best showing in Cincinnati. She’d made five previous appearances in semifinals this season, winning each tournament.

“My legs were pretty heavy,” Kvitova said. “I just couldn’t really jump at all. It was very, very tiring, the second set, and I just think that I couldn’t really find energy in the third one. I was really trying, but nothing.”

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